Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | July 23, 2008

An Unsounded Challenge

Like so many other things, silence suffers from increasing scarcity. One imagines this may present a circumstance precisely opposite that of the ancient world. We might even ponder whether this cacophonous collusion sounds out a hollow nothingness that inures and disables our hearing, and by contrast to this modern desert within, our infrequent encounter with real silence presents an oasis of experience where we are simply overwhelmed by the challenge of engaging the few remaining sounds around us.

Indeed, there seem so many rhythms in our lives that the little silences we find are often beaten to no more than intermezzos, brief interludes between two main course movements. This brevity rushes us onward before we chance to savor and distill the last experience, and ends all too readily with both moments lost, memories faded, and new unfiled folds in time. And if we struggle later to recollect, these moments all too readily blend into our muffled background like a vague two-stepped shuffle rather than a crisply defined dance. We may even find within ourselves a certain leering awkwardness as if our struggle affords more of an experience of discomfort than actual listening.

Perhaps our discomfort arises from the echo chamber of our internal narrative, the self-serving voice of our consciousness that alternates between soothing comfort and unnerving digs, yet seldom speaks of the omnipresent loneliness that may lie within. And perhaps more is found by those blessed in this to hear the soft whispering that calls us back to God, that reminds us of better, that affirms how we are loved and not meant to be alone. And maybe in this remembrance we can in turn find peace even in the midst of all these people, their doings and sounds. We mourn equally where this does not happen, and that it happens less in our lives than we might wish. Yet we can be thankful all the same for the merciful measure that is our portion to witness.

For we witness that silence restores and refreshes us. Wearily, we admit that like a void created for study on a laboratory bench, this refreshment seems something we seldom stumble across, but increasingly must seek out and create through active effort. It takes effort not just to hear the silence in-between that surrounds us, but to still our passions, our egos, our complaints, our “insights” and even some of our joys. This is indeed a hard creation, and requires restraining our seemingly irrepressible desire to usurp our place and fill the void. Yet maybe this is what it takes; and even at some short-term cost is what we think we need. And maybe all of us whose ears ring all too readily with the timbre of our own voicing of “I am here” can allow of another; can trust another; and can admit that perhaps God already knows we are here.

Maybe that will be enough, or maybe it will prove only a start. Whichever… surely it challenges our unsounded depths and turns us in a new direction.


  1. It drives my clients NUTS that I work with no “sound”, decline offers of radio, music, TV, and pretty much work without jabbering about current events and make small talk. They often wander around their own houses like they are lost, not wanting to invade my silence but being extremely uncomfortable with no background noise. Sometimes they just go in their bedroom and watch TV while I work. Its sad that people can’t live inside their own heads with God for even a few brief moments.

  2. Okay. Lemme admit you’re way ahead of me. Sure I work in a stone silent tomb… even my last priest wondered at how quiet our offices were… but we do take our breaks!

    But “as always” you hit the nail on the head. Living with God is precisely the point. And as I look at all the noise pollution I’ve made in my day one way or another… time’s come to do my part to silence certain beasts. No, no….not the beast in the shower that kind of looks like me…. I mean the dude’s got talent! LOL! …No, I meant the OTHER dude with the rambling rant… yeah him… time to put a cork in ’em. And no, it’s not gonna make me a saint somehow, but it sure might help someone else get further down that road. Maybe that’s my small bit.

  3. I once spent three days at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina. I went for the quiet, the solitude. The change was dramatic. I left my home and job with their inherent noisiness and within three hours I was at the very quiet abbey. No television, no radio, no distractions. I found that I was not so comfortable in my own company as I had imagined. I took time to read, I walked the grounds, I wandered how the monks stood it. Perhaps three days were not enough. Perhaps the decompression was too fast. I may not have enjoyed my visit as much as I thought but I knew I was on the right path. I knew I was drowning out my own voice and His voice. The world bombards us with ear candy, with ads, with violence (real and simulated), with everything we don’t need. You are correct in that the irony is that we make have to time for the solitude, that there is no silence other than that which is self-imposed.

  4. Silence is definitely an aquired taste. 🙂 Yeah, three days of silence with no experience is like going to the gym after being a couch potato and trying to do an Olympian’s workout. Its gonna hurt. 🙂
    I basically haven’t watched TV since 1959 (VERY rarely, only as a social event and I didn’t inhale… LOL! I rarely listen to radio or CD’s. After 16 years, my wife finally had an epiphany a couple months ago and cancelled the cable TV so we have no TV at all in the house now. (Yay!) The bombardment of media is mostly self inflicted (unless you have teenagers, which I do), but extricating our souls from noise is a spiritual discipline, much like overcoming an addiction. Its not that we have to have some mystical experience or heightened awareness or think of God, its just that we need to not be distracted and be still in case He shows up in the “still small voice”. And silence grounds us in peace. Its much easier to be calm when you are calm and its much easier to fight a spiritual warfare when you can focus on what is in front of you and within you, not everything going on around you. Hard stuff to do in our world.

  5. Oops. Sorry for the typos and incoherent sentences.

  6. […] 27 July 2008 by Benedict Seraphim First Pithless Thoughts and then through PT, Veni Vidi Credidi, I was reminded of a reality with which I am dealing more of recent days: […]

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