A little bit of a silence can be a powerful thing.
These days quiet and silence can be a difficult thing to find. We are surrounded by noise and clamour, sometimes out of choice, other times because of things out of our control. Music is always on demand through streaming services, crowds envelope us in the streets and coffee shops, devices beep and bing constantly. Silence seems so very far away.
In fact, silence is now something sold as a luxury item. A few years ago Matthew Crawford wrote in the New York Times:
“Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious.”
Silence is luxurious because it is so rare these days. But silence has been a powerful ally in the Christian life throughout the centuries. The missionary and martyr Jim Elliot once wrote:
“I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds… Satan is quite aware of the power of silence.”Jim Elliot
Noise crowds our thoughts and fills our minds. Silence is worth pursuing because it allows us to filter out the drone of the world around us and start to think about what it truly important. The trouble is that this process of silence is dreadfully uncomfortable! I remember the first quiet day I had at theological college. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and just a half hour of silence nearly drove me crazy. Far from being an ally I thought that silence and quiet was the most difficult thing I had encountered so far in my training.
The seventeenth century writer Blaise Pascal was fully aware of this issue, and he diagnosed the problem in this way:
”I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”Blaise Pascal
Could it be that silence is so rare because we actually find it more comfortable that way? Might we fill our minds and ears with music and noise so that we don’t have to stop and think about the important things of life and faith?
As Christians, stopping and being quiet from time to time is an important thing. Not because we have to be quiet to honour God: we can please God through noisy singing as well as silent contemplation. But the process of being alone and quiet stops the clamour of the world around us. It stills the noise of our own minds and hearts. It allows the important things to float back to the surface instead of being drowned out by louder voices. That process is not easy or comfortable, but it is important, it is useful, it is fruitful. Perhaps in taking time to be silent when we can, we will learn more about ourselves, more about our hearts and hear more from the God who speaks in silence and noise.