Enjoy the Silence

Returning to the routine after an extended absence is always somewhat jarring.  And as I sat in mass this morning before my first day back to what is my current level of normal, my mind was racing through the million and one things that are on my agenda, all of which need my attention.  This is one of those blood-draining-away sort of sensations, like when you see someone is about to go sailing through the intersection and just miss hitting you.  As a result it was difficult to focus on what was going on in front of me, though I was trying my best to keep my mind on where I was and what I was doing.

And then my phone rang during the Consecration.

Now, if you have ever had your phone ring during church, you know what a horrible feeling that is, but for Catholics in particular to have your phone ring during the Consecration is without a doubt the absolute worst time it could possibly happen.  Fortunately, even in such a moment there are good lessons to be learned. The first is to make sure I turn my phone completely off when entering a church, not simply mute it. The second lesson is a related one, which I want to explore a little bit, and that is the fact that sometimes you just need to turn off the world.

We are living surrounded by noise which we voluntarily bring into our lives by turning on the phone, the television, the computer, the iPod, and so on, and we forget how good it is to be silent.  It is so often that in silence, man has sat back and planned magnificent buildings, worked out complex scientific theories, or composed beautiful poetry.  He has used silence to reflect on his relationship with God and with his neighbor, and to detach himself from the world so that he can rest.  However silence is now something we avoid at any cost.

We are so constantly bombarding ourselves and others with noise, no wonder we all seem to be on such short fuses.  If you did nothing but drink caffeine all day long, you would become jittery and unable to sleep; that lack of sleep would eventually take its toll on your mental and physical health.  Yet isn’t that what we are doing by being awash in meaningless stimuli so much of the time? And what is the end result of this, what is the benefit of it?

Well, let us look at the evidence of this brave new world we have created.  For one thing, we shout at each other (or worse) through closed car windows as we break the speed limits and change lanes without signalling.  We laugh at and mock emotionally unbalanced people who choose to humiliate themselves on television for our entertainment.

We dress like beggars and prostitutes to “express” ourselves, and we will not quarter any criticism of our appearance.  It used to be said that we would call each other names on social media which we would never say in person, but sadly I think that reticence is disappearing, based on what I heard in the supermarket just the other day.  We are no longer concerned about being considered vile, crude, or ill-mannered by others, thanks to all of the messages we receive telling us that they are okay just the way we are.

Quite frankly, one of the reasons why we have seen such a rapid growth of atheism and such a correlated, rapid decline in basic public decency, is that we have forgotten how to be quiet.  For God is in the quiet, and we do not care to hear what He has to say.  All of this over-stimulation is a way of covering up that uncomfortable silence, and what we might not like to hear when we are alone with ourselves, and with Him.  So we are told to turn up the volume, put on the earbuds, and get those eyes on the screen with all of its flashing, true-to-life high-definition colors, and forget about the fact that you are mortal, and that one day you are going to die, no matter how hard you try to escape from or forget that fact.

The consequences of our embrace of noisiness are to be found in all of our endeavors, from social media and entertainment to politics and business – for there is no more joy and love, only mockery and lust.  We are no longer building beautiful buildings, or writing beautiful music, or making beautiful films.   All the signs are that our civilization is dying, and yet we roll our merry way along worrying about how many apps our cell phone has, rather than worrying why it is we have not read a serious work of literature in over a decade.

Therefore gentle reader, remember as this New Year begins that stepping away from the computer, the phone, and the television for even brief periods of time each day will be of far greater benefit to you in the long run, than avoiding finding yourself in silence, for fear of what you might hear there.  By no means am I suggesting that everything electronic is bad.  I would hardly be blogging or podcasting otherwise!  But I would suggest that you make judicious use of what has not yet been fried in your brain to step away from devices, even if only for a little window of time each day.

There are plenty of practical ways to implement this.  Turn off the television during dinner, for example, or get up a bit earlier without turning on the phone or the radio.  Shut down the computer an hour earlier than when you normally go to bed, by saying good night and meaning it.  And above all, enjoy the silence – don’t be afraid of it.

DM

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11 thoughts on “Enjoy the Silence

  1. Nice post & deep thoughts presented here… Liked reading it.
    And its so true.. we need sum silence around..2 talk 2 ourselves..2 hear wat our heart says..2 concentrate & focus on Almighty GOD…
    to explore our own existance… to explore our life and understand ourselves..

    We have been too busy 2 live life.. and v r just leaving the essence & joy…

    Some silence…sometime away from these wordly things, sometime wid ouselves may give us a better outlook & feel of what v r here for..? And, its good to analyse and observe these before its too late..

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    • We are so busy creating a din, and one that is getting louder all the time, that I think the only thing that will get people to look away from their devices would be the Parousia – and perhaps not even then.

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  2. “Yet isn’t that what we are doing by being awash in meaningless stimuli so much of the time?”

    I was just very much struck by the irony of this line, as by blogging we are contributing to the noise that bombards us daily, but then you mention the same towards the end. The value of silence should never be underestimated. Henri Nouwen also wrote about this in his book ‘With Open Hands’.

    I do have an issue with one statement you make: “Quite frankly, one of the reasons why we have seen such a rapid growth of atheism and such a correlated, rapid decline in basic public decency, is that we have forgotten how to be quiet.” This sentence can easily be interpreted as saying that atheists are the cause of the decline in decency. I know that’s not necessarily what you’re saying, but some readers will see it that way. The few atheists I have had the pleasure to meet in my life are remarkably decent people while some of the most mean-spirited I know sit in the front row in church every Sunday. Fact is, the world’s not the way it is due to atheists, but due to Christians not living the way the Word instructs us. And here I come back to your statement. The reason Christians are not living the way we should is because we no longer become quiet enough to hear His instructions.

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  3. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. We are consistently available to other people through our electronic leashes, panicking when we can’t find our phones. We schedule our lives around our shows, rather than our friends or our families, and we are no more available to ourselves or our God. The media we are so addicted to rarely serves to do anything but distract us and tempt us away from God, and life, and love, and joy and people.

    About 6 months ago I asked one of my employers to not call me on Saturdays, unless its a personal call, and have recently been thinking about putting all my technology to bed by 7 or 8 at night, giving me a few hours to pray, read my Bible or a book, play my piano, create something, walk, visit…breathe.

    Thank you for your thoughts, very valid and (in my opinion at least) important. I know a number of people who are slowly beginning to shift their thinking, and I hope there will be a cultural shift in the future (however far in the future that may be) as people continue to wake up to this point.

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  4. Very well written!

    The sentiment expressed here is something I certainly can relate to. Removing myself from the social media sphere has given me a lot more free time (or at least it feels that way).

    I agree, “enjoy the silence – don’t be afraid of it.”

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  5. May I suggest Nature? Having been an outdoors sportsperson all my life, I could always evade It all by going to the woods for a day or two. Unless you’re a maniac, you do not “connect” at all. It also fits reawakening to the world à la oriental philosophies. And works fine for good Christians 😀 Tay.

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  6. One of your best articles. I remember a priest in high school who made a long commentary on how the cacophony is drowning out people’s ability to meditate and think things out instead of snapping from one thing to another, and always needing a soundtrack to life rather than just being in it. And this was 1982, when the Walkman first appeared, but music videos and cable TV were taking off and people started being a lot more plugged in. It makes me think of the prophet Elijah who heard the earthquake, then the storm, then the fire, and found God in none of these, but in the gentlest whisper of a breeze, there was God. The movie Waterworld was a waste, except for one scene: the harridan and daughter he had on his ship just would not shut up. The daughter was carrying on when he finally made her shut up to learn to listen to the sound of the world, in other words, to absorb what’s around her while meditating on it.

    I agree on no new great literature in the last decade. We’re also overdue on a new music wave, as teens and 20’s are listening to the Classic rock of their parents and grandparents. And one had to win a war, climb a mountain, cure a disease, or even something as mundane as hit more home runs than anyone else, but still had to do something skilled and worthy of admiration before being on a Wheaties box let alone real honors and fame. Nowadays one has to be a freak, and we wonder when the disturbed notice this, and with clarity of mind not seen in the media, conclude that infamy for the heinous will bring them fame in a way they couldn’t get with achievement.

    Adriano Celentano did a send-up about all this a few years ago. You don’t need to understand Italian to get the gist of the video; it says in music and clips what you said here.

    People are used to yelling *at* the TV, at the radio, and now they interact that way in person. There is no more respect for, or even acknowledgement of, the sacred, so when all is profane, nothing is profane. Words we’d never think of hearing on broadcast TV are now common, and I believe lost their shock and therefore purpose. 10 year old girls with slogans written on the butts of their shorts and sweat pants. Sexual unions that used to go under shame are now to be celebrated and honored by the state, and possibly forcibly also toward the Church. If a nut shoots up a school he’s rightfully scorned and vilified, but put him in a lab coat in a clinic, and he and his fellows can kill 3500 pre-born babies a day and they get honored with the title “Dr.” and make massive incomes. Those who lecture us to have civility in public discourse themselves shriek and tantrum until they get their way and the other side completely capitulates on its beliefs, then calls that dialogue and compromise, nothing less. I’m coming more to the conclusion that this society has gone to seed, and anymore see the Bride of Christ as the only anchor we have on the earth left.

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  7. Great reflection. Ever since his World Communications Day message on silence, I have been convinced that the Holy Father lives with the spiritual equivalent of having a licked finger in the air. He knows what direction the wind is blowing — the four winds and the Holy Spirit.

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