- Have you ever thought about the value of silence?
Silence is often listed as a spiritual discipline — along with solitude (being alone with God) and secrecy (living for an audience of One) (see: Matthew 6:5-6; 25:34-40; Philippians 2:3; Hebrews 6:10).
Although God said, “it’s not good to be alone,” aloneness is sometimes necessary for doing well together.
Those who walk with God know that silence, solitude and secrecy are indispensable parts of spiritual transformation. They are a means of getting away from the many noises and distractions of life.
- But quietness seems to be an endangered quality.
A media saturated culture (dominated by technology), challenges these disciplines.
I am as connected as most people (with iPhone, iPad, and Lap Top to prove it). But I always feel a bit uneasy with the distractions that come with a “connected” life.
When I walk through our university town between classes most of those around me are either on cell phones or ear-plugged to some device. I am troubled by what might be lost in the endless noise — by what we might not hear.
Although silence is not only about technology, we could all benefit from considering liabilities that come with being so connected.
- Is it possible to be too connected?
- Do social networks facilitate deeper or more superficial community?
- How does technology affect communion with God?
- Does access to more information lead to more wisdom?
- Can I escape these connections sufficiently to experience the blessings and benefits of silence, solitude and secrecy?
Have you ever thought of silence as an uncomfortable experience?
Some people avoid silence and prefer noise. But what does it tell us when distraction and noise feel better than being alone with our thoughts? How can we truly listen through all the noise and distraction?
I agree that, “You can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and dimension all its own. It talks to me sometimes. . . It has a strange, beautiful texture. It doesn’t always talk. Sometimes — sometimes it cries, and you can hear the pain of the world in it” (Danny Saunders).
When we practice silence and solitude in a secret place with God, our thoughts are quieted in His presence. We must hear this word from the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
The mother of toddlers might relish the thought of solitude and silence but the default for most of us is to hit a power switch and connect during our down time. Beyond televisions and radios, I don’t think of silence, solitude or secrecy in relation to phones, texting, voicemail, email, blogging, Facebook, and Twitter. Is it possible to be too available, too visible; too connected?
One of my favorite authors wrote, “The best way to achieve silence during worship is to practice silence as part of our everyday lives. … When this is a natural habit of our daily lives, then when silence is introduced at specific times during worship we are perfectly comfortable with it and know how to use this precious time to focus ourselves on God in a different way from how we are present to God during the rest of the service” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
Learning the rhythm: silence and speaking
There’s a time for everything, wrote the wise teacher, “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7).
“But who knows which is which? Who knows how to tell time? Who knows when to speak up and when to keep still? Who knows when silence is golden and when it is lazy or even cowardly?”
“The wise know these things. Wise persons discern the deep grains and patterns of God’s world, and then they try to go with the grain. These are persons whose habits are always in season. They’ve got rhythm where silence and speech are concerned. And so they imitate God by not talking all the time. They’ve got more silences than words, and their silences are just as disciplined and just as thoughtful as their words. They speak only from the context of silence, and when they have nothing valuable to say, they fall silent again.”
“We have met wise people like this. They have high quality words because they have high quality silences. Sometimes their silences are eloquent. Wise speakers may say more or less than others, but usually less, and always less that needs to be taken back. They give the impression of speaking out of a stillness at their center, a quiet place in which they are at home with themselves, in touch with God, and hospitable to the voices of others.”
“Silence is the natural context for speaking, but also for listening. What do we hear if we pipe down for a while? We hear the voices of others—not just their words, but their voices. We hear a quaver in a macho voice, or strength in a quiet voice. We also listen for the sounds and the silences of God. The silences of God! So mysterious they are, and so deep. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak, and God has kept this calendar a lot longer than we have” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
Losing our rhythm
“But silence puzzles people. They meet a silence and they wonder what’s wrong. Or silence makes people restless. The effect is just the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d expect that people would enter a silence and fold their wings. You’d expect that inside a silence people would smooth out and settle down. But that’s not the way it goes. Oddly, a fair number of people find silence disquieting.”
“If you go to a big league sports event and the announcer asks for a moment of silence to honor some fallen hero, people will do it all right. People bow their heads, and the place gets quiet. But it’s never for a full moment. No, you get about twelve seconds of silence, and when it’s over there’s an explosion of cheering and whistling, as if the whole place had been holding its breath and had let it out at once. Twelve seconds of silence, and then we’re glad that’s over, so life can get back to normal.”
“Silence makes people restless. So they try to get rid of it. People plug their ears with mini-speakers or haul their boom boxes to the seashore so that they don’t have to live in the silence between the rolling of surf and the crying of gulls. People crank up the mega-bass in their car stereos and cruise through a neighborhood, blowing all the birds out of the trees. People on subway trains conduct noisy and personal phone conversations. People turn on talk shows and fill their homes with hours of chatter. Some of this chatter is hostile. Some of it, amusing. But mostly the chatter is pointless, what Ephesians calls ‘unwholesome talk.’”
Disoriented without silence
“The truth is that silence is part of the created rhythm of human life. The question of whether we need any silences goes to who we are, not just to what we want. That’s why a loss of silence is so serious. A loss of silence is as serious as a loss of memory, and just as disorienting. Silence is, after all, the natural context from which we listen. Silence is also the natural context from which we speak. A culture that fills in our silences therefore disorients us. It rips away our frame. It removes the background, the base of intelligibility for all our listening and speaking” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).