One of our friends loves to scour for bargains at flea markets and antique shops. He’s brought us some fantastic finds, and one of my favorites is this little sign that says, “I wish more people were fluent in silence.” It makes most people laugh, but he brought it to us and said, “This reminds me of you guys.” It’s become an adage in our house: one must learn to be silent.
In Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved, he wrote, “The real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen.” Isn’t that where the real relationship building takes place—in the silence? In fact, I’d argue that most great dialogues end with an epic, pregnant silence.
One of my favorite things about a good concert is when the band ends the night with the song that everyone knows. This is especially poignant when it’s a worship band or a worship concert. I was at one concert when the night ended with the crowd of thousands singing acapella, “How Great Thou Art.” I became lost in the prayer of the song and closed my eyes. When I opened them, the band was gone and I was left inspired, full of hope.
There was another time shortly after my now husband and I had started dating. We were sitting on a porch swing. My head was on his shoulder, and the night was settling in around us. All you could hear were the crickets beginning to chirp, the creaking of the swing, and the beat of my heart. In that silence, I remember thinking, “Oh. This is it. I love this man. There’s nothing left to say. We just are. This is it.”
Shouldn’t all relationships bring us to this place of utter silence and being with the other?
We fill silence with noise. Podcasts, music, television, mental notes, and checklists . . . all noise that fills in the silence around us and within us. But we must embrace silence, for if the Lord comes as a “still small voice,” then all distraction must be muted so the smallness can become great.
Why do we avoid silence? In my near decade of young adult ministry, I’ve asked that question of many. Some of them say they’re too busy. Some of them admit that they don’t really think about intentional silence. But the answer that always comes after the excuses is, “The silence makes me uncomfortable.”
In Robert Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence, he writes that “at the heart of man there is an innate silence, for God abides in the innermost part of every person. God is silence, and this divine silence dwells in man.”
With those two ideas, it is reasonable to say that often we are uncomfortable with silence because we are uncomfortable with who we are in our depths—or better yet, who we think we are.
There was a time when I too shied away from silence for the sheer discomfort of it. I thought that when all the noise was gone that the voice of God would say that I am a wretched fool, unloved, unwanted . . . an orphan. I had made my wounds the very voice of God himself, and my wounds had become my identity.
I went on a beginner’s silent retreat almost eight years ago. When I came home to my very contemplative husband, I nearly wept in his arms, apologizing for never understanding his love for silence and his strong desire to not only want it but to actively seek it, intentionally making space for it in his life.
Within silence, I find the voice of God calling me the beloved. As one grafted into the identity of the Incarnate Son, the same words are spoken over me: “You are my beloved. In you, I am well pleased.” Within those words, I find myself imago Dei, image and likeness of God. It is difficult to hear those truths from the depths of our souls if we do not seek silence.
Outside of the Mass, I grasp the greatest silence within my moments in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. If you’ve been to an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, you may have experienced the Benediction. “Benediction” comes from the Latin benedicere, which can be further broken down into “speaking” (diction) “well” (bene) or even “blessing.”
After your next Holy Hour, amidst the silence, may you hear the still, small voice speaking. Then, may the Benediction incarnate that truth within you. How beautiful that within the blessing with the monstrance, no words are said—only the gaze of Christ as he “speaks well” of you.
For me personally, prayer becomes more and more a way to listen to the blessing. (Henri Nouwen)