‘Shhh, quiet please’

Published 6:21 pm Thursday, April 11, 2019


Life Matters

“Hi, how are you?” I greeted the stranger as I strolled along the walkway. He acknowledged me with only a faint smile.

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Oops, I had momentarily lapsed into conversing and was reminded that, “Silence is spoken here.”

It had been years since I’d spent more than a few hours at a time during visits to the Abbey of Gethsemani, in rural central Kentucky. But I had responded to “the call” to retreat for several days, as Jesus himself had commanded, “come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31).

I looked at my accommodations: a single bed, a desk and a couple of chairs.

In the monastery, there is no television or radio, and only sporadic cell phone service. Wi-Fi is limited to certain times in designated areas.

“Ooh, I had forgotten about that. What will I do if I…”

And then I smiled: the beauty of simplicity, of silence, of solitude easily escapes us, and we find ourselves dependent upon if not addicted to the convenience of constant communication and access to information.

The noise oozes into our lives from all angles: I get in my car and SiriusXM provides me with any kind of music I could possibly want, and information to boot — from talk radio, to comedy, to ball games, to news channels. Walking down the aisle of the grocery story, there’s muzak playing in the background. When I’m exercising, I can access music or podcasts on my phone. Just so I don’t miss anything. I hear the dinging on my phone, updating me of text messages, or email, or voicemail. Even if I silence my phone, I’m aware of activity on it, because I can sense the vibration.

When I’m upstairs in the quiet of my study, whether at home or at my office, I sometimes play music suited for reading so I can drown out the noise I don’t want to hear. Noise battles noise. Noise is ubiquitous, but we want it that way because we invite it and pay for it. We demand it. After all, what else would we listen to?

If we weren’t tuned in to music, podcasts, chatter on Twitter, updates on Facebook, sports reports on the ESPN app — what else would we hear?

God’s still, small voice? The word, without which we don’t know our true selves, or the difference between the false voices from the truth bearing ones?

We find ourselves adrift in a sea of noise, floating along unaware that we’ve lost our bearings. Spiritual writer and professor, the late Henri Nouwen, aptly said, “It is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much inner and outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us.”

Instead of cultivating the art of listening to the silence, we become like memory foam mattresses, comfortably embracing whatever information settles upon us, conforming to it, lest, God forbid, we miss out on something.

Or we gradually morph into entertainment receptacles: “Have you seen that movie?” “Not yet, I’ve been binging on this new series on Netflix.”

In her review of the book, “Silence,” by Jane Brox, Wall Street Journal writer, Jane Rosen recently observed: “A culture that supports a market for high-end noise-canceling headphones while also embracing the endless tweeting, chattering and live-streaming of the online world is a culture that hasn’t thought seriously enough about the value of silence.”

The wonderful thing about silence is that it is transportable. It’s not confined to controlled environments like certain monasteries, or isolated places in the woods, or caves, or sound- proof rooms.

I can choose to shut down the tweeting, the chattering and the messaging. I can embrace the silence.

Driving away from Gethsemani, I reach by habit to the radio dial.

And then I pause, draw back and take a deep breath.

And for at least one more moment, I let the silence do the talking.