One aspect that we must foster in our communities with greater commitment is the experience of silence. We need silence if we are to accept in our hearts the full resonance of the voice of the Holy Spirit and to unite our personal prayer more closely to the Word of God and the public voice of the Church. In a society that lives at an increasingly frenetic pace, often deafened by noise and confused by the ephemeral, it is vital to rediscover the value of silence.
These words reminded me of these poignant lines in T. S. Eliot:
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice.
Three things are packed into that last verse: no time to rejoice—for those who walk among noise—and deny the voice. An essential condition for man to be sane and rational and joyful is that he must, at times, let go of his everyday concerns, the whirling wheels of his calculating and planning, the burdens and cares of this life, and enter into the presence of the eternal and infinite God whom he cannot grasp, cannot dictate to, cannot manipulate, but only adore and love.
It is a paradox: we will not find time for rejoicing unless we sacrifice time to “do nothing,” to make a burnt offering of our life and our time before the Lord. This is not quite the same thing as going to Mass or performing a particular pious work. I am speaking strictly of simple silence, without props, without scripts or safe paths. Only by making a choice for inactivity, as it were, will we habituate ourselves to stop walking among noise and stop denying the voice. Perhaps this is why the prophet Isaiah says: Cultus iustitiae silentium—the worship of justice is silence (Is 32:17, Vulg.), as if to say, we owe everything to God, in whom we live and move and have our being, and it is justice to worship Him in the silence of recollection.
Gabriel Marcel, a perceptive philosopher of the interior life, had this to say about the relationship between recollection and mystery:
Not only am I in a position to impose silence upon the strident voices which usually fill my consciousness, but also, this silence has a positive quality. Within the silence, I can regain possession of myself. It is in itself a principle of recovery. I should be tempted to say that recollection and mystery are correlatives.
Is this not another way of saying: “He who loses his life for my sake will find it”? We lose possession of what is more exterior to us and gain possession of the innermost reality—God closer to me than myself, and yet higher than the highest in me. If the conditions for recollection are never present in our lives, if we do not fight to create and guard such conditions, we will lose our awareness of divine mystery, as refreshing as springtime rains, and wander in a desert of superficiality.
The passage quoted earlier from John Paul II continues with a specific recommendation directed to the pastors of the Church:
The spread, also outside Christian worship, of practices of meditation that give priority to recollection is not accidental. Why not start with pedagogical daring a specific education in silence within the coordinates of personal Christian experience? Let us keep before our eyes the example of Jesus, who “rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed” (Mk 1: 35). The Liturgy, with its different moments and symbols, cannot ignore silence.
(Read Part 1 here.)
Photo courtesy Fr. Lawrence Lew