I read the other day that scientists have determined that noise has a definite effect on work efficiency. Noise quickens the pulse, increases the blood pressure, and upsets the normal rhythms of the heart. That’s actually pretty scary. Because every single one of us live and exist in noise. And if noise affects our work that way, what, exactly, does it do to our spiritual life? We need silence sometimes. It is part of the rhythm of life. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that “we need to find God, and [God] cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature–trees, flowers, grass–grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence…we need silence to be able to touch souls.”
So, why is silence so hard to find? And why, then, is it so hard to take? We’re not really programmed that way. Our world is not programmed that way. Most of us are used to at the very least a little “background” noise. In fact, we now employ the use of benign “white noise” to drown out other noise, to bring us closer to silence. For some of us, that is as close as we get to silence. What is wrong with us? Are we so unsure of ourselves and our faith that we cannot just be silent? Is the honing of our communications skills of higher importance than the contemplation of our faith?
Now, to be honest, I’m not sure that “pure” silence really exists. There’s always something making noise. Perhaps “keeping silence” is more about returning to a natural level of noise than it is stopping all noise itself. In her book, When God is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about an experience by composer John Cage’s time in an anechoic chamber (a room without echoes). With his perfect hearing, he picked up two distinct sounds–one high and one low. When he described them to the engineer in charge, he was told that the high sound was his nervous sytem in operation, and the low one was his blood in circulation. Noise is part of life. Keeping silence is not about existing in pure silence; it is about living in pure life, in Creation. And yet, most of us live most of our lives in noise–artificial noise, the noise of the world, rather than the noise of Creation.
If you go back and read the story of Creation, it began in silence. I think it probably began in “pure” silence, in a void. And then God spoke us into being. In her book, Taylor says, “in his poetic eulogy “The World of Silence”, the French philosopher Max Picard says that silence is the central place of faith, where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it. Surrendering the Word, we surrender the medium of our creation. We unsay ourselves, voluntarily returning to the source of our being, where we must trust God to say us once again.”
In this Lenten journey, we talk about giving up, we talk about re-aligning our lives with what God envisions for us, and we talk about change. But maybe the part we’re missing is where we don’t talk. Shhhhh! Let God say you into being again.