The Gift of Silence
As a musician I know that in reality the most important part of any piece of music is not the sounds one makes, but the silences between the sounds. If not for the silent spots, whether they be rests or simply spaces due to the length of a note, there would be no melodies to hum, sing, or play. It would be a blur of sound, which we might otherwise call noise. What makes true music is the way we articulate the notes. Even the tiniest of silences are what define the melodies and harmonies, making the sounds we hear say so much to our minds, hearts, and spirits.
Without silence we would never hear the voice of God. Silence is what enables us to open our minds and hearts to hear that which is all around us. If we surround ourselves with nothing but noise we will never really hear anything. It becomes background, foreground, and everything in between such that we inadvertently block out God, who is trying to speak words of love to us. Noise can become a buffer against that which we would rather not face, but probably should because it would lead us to greater freedom. In addition, noise blocks out the wisdom and beauty of God which is everywhere. Noise keeps us from focusing, and eventually we lose the ability to notice.
I have a saying that I keep on my desk which I have had for so long I do not remember where it originated. It says: "Silence is the indispensable climate for all revelation; noise renders it absolutely impossible." There is wisdom in this saying. This fact is why many people go on retreat for a period of time. It is on retreat that we allow ourselves to silence all the noise around us and within us so we can begin to practice the art of listening. If we are going to allow God to reveal Himself to us, we must make room by listening in silence. But even on retreat we can allow interior noise to drown out the voice of God unless we learn how to let go of it and quiet down. In the silence we learn who He is more clearly and we allow Him to reveal to us who we are to Him as well. It is so important to get to know the Lord and not to simply know about Him. How can we serve Him if we do not know the "Him" whom we seek to serve? If we are silent, we can let God reveal Himself to us and hear His song of love sung all around us. It is in creation; it is in all the details which surround us. We simply need to stop, look, and listen. When we do this, how can we not fall more deeply in love with Him who is Love itself?
It does take some practice. For example, have you ever heard falling snow? It is an incredible sound to experience. I remember when I was in college in mid-state New York, some friends and I would climb the hill behind the dorms and go deep into the woods when it would snow. I learned there to hear the sounds of falling snow. I already knew how to identify that it had snowed before getting out of bed in the morning. There is a hush that comes over the world, and one simply knew how to identify that reality. The hush would tell me that it had snowed, and sure enough when I got to the window, it had indeed! But to hear the sound of the snow falling is another issue entirely. I learned to stand absolutely still so that I could become part of the surroundings. Then I would start hearing the sounds around me as if they were suddenly amplified. There was the bird calling to its mate, the rustle of the dead, brown leaves still on some trees, the delicate rush of the brook near where I was standing. There was the sound of my own breathing and the beating of my heart. And finally: a tinkling of those one-of-a-kind flakes hitting the water and the leaves. It is the tiniest of sounds, but if you get still enough you can hear it clearly.
In order to learn to hear God's voice around and within us, we need to create an atmosphere of silence. To begin, we need to carve out some time to do so. Then we need to notice what is around us. Maybe there are trees around you that are telling a story about creation. Maybe it is a cloud formation, a flower, or a gentle breeze on a hot day, all of which are God trying to send a message to you. And if you are not outdoors, there are other ways to notice; you can be quiet and let a picture speak to you. It can be a photograph, an icon, or anything that makes you stop and be still to hear the voice of God. Sometimes I like to look at pictures of the cosmos on an internet site that cause me to be amazed at the wonder of the universe.
When we learn how to listen, we hear what is inside of us. We hear our own inner desires and that for which we hope. But we also hear God speaking through our imagination and inner stirrings. He speaks through the inspirations that seem to arise from nowhere and the thoughts that bubble up from deep within. He speaks through the silence an infinite amount of "I love you" messages to each of us: sometimes it is even through the silence of a glance from a loved one, or the space between get-togethers, in which we miss the presence of the other. In their absence, a form of silence, we realize the depth of our love and we recognize God there. And maybe it is in the space between our "get-togethers" with the Lord (prayer) that we realize our love for him. Do you ever miss being in God's presence between Sunday worship from week to week? Do you miss Him between prayer periods? I would say He misses us between these times, but I do not believe that is true. I think He misses our attentiveness and the intimacy of that, but He cannot truly miss us because He never leaves us. And if we learn to be attentive, He will always be in our awareness and we will not miss Him either!
Therefore let us allow God to teach us how to listen to His voice all around us and within us. Ask Him for the gift of true listening, but be ready to give some time to learning how to accept this gift. Like anything else we have to practice a bit and make it habitual. Once we do that, it becomes natural to listen to Him continually as He speaks words of love to us. Begin with just a few minutes every day and you will see how everything around you transforms with deeper beauty. All of creation is gift to us, and all of creation is speaking God's words of love to us. It is no wonder that in music we call the spaces between notes "rests". When we stop, it brings greater definition to the music of life, and it does bring refreshment to our bodies and souls. This is necessary for all of us, especially if we are extraordinarily busy.
May we learn to appreciate and embrace the gift of silence, and may we learn the art of true listening. May we hear the sound of God's voice more clearly around and within us. And in hearing, may we be profoundly moved by how simple God's message really is: may we hear His "I love you" all around us this day. Let us continue to meet in the silence of the heart of our Lord! Peace!
(All photography is my own. The top picture is from Gulf Shores, Alabama and the second photo is from Assisi, Italy.)
8/17/2012 12:34:55 pm
Just a whispered "thank you" for a great reflection. I went back to amazing nights as snow fell at 2 a.m. at Catholic University and you could hear the falling snow....
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Heart Speaks to Heart