Listening to Silence
by Scott Holman
“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” (C.S. Lewis, From The Weight of Glory, taken from A Year with C.S. Lewis)
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Ps 62:1-2 ESV)
What if silence had a language? What does it say? How do we acquire ears that can hear it?
What if silence is the only place fit for us to bring everything that is “formless and empty” (Gen 1:2) within us? What are the consequences of avoiding silence? We live in what Henri Nouwen called a “wordy world,” and if we are to hear God we must cultivate habits of being alone and quiet (disciplines of silence and solitude as discussed in Nouwen’s Way of the Heart).
Creation itself seems to speak this language, the words of silence.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. (Ps 19:1-4 NIV)
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom 1:20 NIV)
When we spend time in creation (with nature and persons) we can detect a secret language woven into the fabric of each breeze, permeating wildflowers and birdsong. What does it say? Are we listening?
Significantly, silence seems to be one of the few “right” responses to suffering. How often words have intruded on the bloody scene of a broken heart! Silence is like police tape wrapped around the broken heart saying “Caution – Crime Scene.”
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:11-13 NIV)
Silence also robs us of what is false, because our false selves are maintained by noise and busyness. Let us not be afraid to enter into silence, for if we press on past the awkward terror of losing our false selves, we just might encounter a God of raging holiness and furious love who shall embrace us in ways more tightly and firmly than a baby is held in a mother’s dark womb.