Monday, May 3, 2010

The Benefits of Silence

Walking into the store, the echoes of musak tickle my mind, enticing me to buy, buy, buy, since the tunes projecting from the sound system are not merely for my enjoyment alone. We are caught up in a world where silence and solitude are foreign to both our hearts and our ears. One would think we thrive on noise; it constantly is entering our ears, whether it is from the radio, television or our ipod. If nothing else, the whoosh of automobiles on the not to distant expressway as they travel to and fro invades our ears. There are even machines that will produce white noise. White noise consists of sound from all of the frequencies that the human ear can hear, drowning out other voices, making it difficult to hear them. Noise is now so commonplace that when it is absent we suffer in the silence, frantically seeking the comfort of sound. Just as the quietness of solitude makes us feel guilty, so also does the sound of silence make us feel uncomfortable.

Yet both silence and solitude are keys to being able to listen to the still small voice of God when he speaks to us. Perhaps the rarity with which we hear his voice is due in part to the discordant noise that is all around us. The cacophony of white noise that Satan uses to invade our ears is designed to prevent our listening to God’s still small voice, for he knows that in many languages “to listen” and “to obey” have the same root. He fears that if we actually listen to God’s voice, we might obey it, carrying out his will.

Throughout the history of Christendom, those men and women having been considered saints and giants in the faith by their peers have found solitude and silence to be beneficial to their faith walk. Thomas à Kempis says of them that “in silence and quiet the devout soul profiteth and learneth the secrets of the scriptures”. Henri Nouwen notes that “silence is the way to make solitude a reality”. In silence and solitude men and women of faith were able to focus deeply upon their relationship with the God they adored.

Noise becomes a great distraction, prohibiting us from concentrating upon that which we desire. I remember a time when I found myself being very unproductive while writing some computer programs. Upon analysis, I discovered I was handling sixty phone calls a day. The constant distractions made it impossible to concentrate on the work at hand. Noise, music and words blaring from the radio or TV all cause us to lose our concentration upon God. They invade our reflections and thoughts. God can not get our attention long enough to get through to our souls.

Silence and solitude bring us face to face with God alone. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. in his book Engaging God’s WorldEngaging God's World (A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living) says ”Silences may fill us with longing for goodness and listening for God. Silence lets us brood over things that make us deep.” Perhaps the reason we reach for the ipod, television or radio at such times is due to the fact that the relationship we have with God is very shallow. Since the encounter is somewhat frightening, we seek the comfort of noise. In this way we can avoid the awkwardness that silence brings – the silence that tells us that we are alone with God.

The extent to which we welcome silence and solitude may tell us much about the nature of our faith. Do we welcome them, or try to avoid them?

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