The importance of silence
Can we remind each other enough of how important spaces and opportunities for solitude and silence have become today? Because we really live in a hectic and overly driven society. To quote Julia Cameron: “As a culture we live in rapids. There are no quiet pools where we can dally for a day or two in silence…”.
How true this is. I rarely come across people nowadays who, when asked how they are, do not complain of an ever growing workload and the anxiety it causes. Very few look relaxed and can honestly answer: “I am fine! I am happy”. We are preoccupied with work and the need for more. And alongside this is the uninterrupted torrent of words and noises that surround us and urge us on, every day. According to Henri Nouwen they form the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of our existence.
So how do we escape from this? Why is silence that important? There are at least three good reasons why we should constantly seek and treasure silence.
Firstly, silence can help us to counter the blindness, and even worse, the impatience and crudeness with which we often approach and handle life. Silence helps us to slow down, to look deeper, listen more carefully and to appreciate and embrace life as a wonderful and very precious gift. In the words of Caitlin Matthews: “It is only in the intentional silence of vigil and meditation, or in the quiet places of nature, that we encounter the song of the universe” – or catch, as Thomas Merton puts it: “a glimpse of the cosmic dance”.
Secondly, silence is an important entry point for our own creativity. It helps us to get into touch with our most honest feelings and emotions, our deep creative core and impulses and most importantly: our need and our capacity for love and generosity. In this regard silence helps us to connect with the better, more human side of our existence. Through silence we may enter the room of compassion in and from which we are called to live every day. No wonder Nouwen calls silence “a quality of the heart that leads to ever growing charity”
Last, but not least, silence can lead us closer to God. It brings us to places where we must give up our need for dominance and control. In silence we are invited to become more naked and vulnerable and therefore more open to the touch of God’s transformative love. Many people who have broken away from their daily routine to try a retreat, have experienced this, sometimes in an overwhelming way.
In fact, for those who earnestly seek God, it is almost certain that silence will lead them into new encounters with the Divine. Because nothing in all creation is so like God as stillness (Meister Eckhart). Silence is the first language of God (Thomas Keating) – God’s language of love with which God wants to surprise you and me again today.
But then we need to be still and know that “I am God!” (ps 46:10)