When was the last time you were surrounded by silence? It seems that background noise is an ever-present reality of our world. The T.V. and radio are our constant companions. Our children play with electronic toys that beep and wail at the push of a button. Our streets are full of roaring engines, tooting horns, and the pounding of construction. At night, we may run a fan or have an air conditioner humming in the background. We do not even sleep in silence. The sounds of nature and indeed the sounds of our own mind are drowned out by the constant din.
What is it about silence that makes us so uncomfortable? While we have little control over many of the noises of our world, what about the ones we can control? How often do we make the conscious choice to turn off the background noise, to pay attention to that which is within us? What is it that we are afraid we will find? It is in those all too rare moments of silence that we can truly come to know ourselves.
Only two people who have known each other a great deal can sit comfortably in silence. Among new acquaintances, we force ourselves to keep the conversation going. Silence feels forced and awkward. In the intimacy of an old friendship or within a marriage, however, the silence can be comforting. We do not feel the need to always come up with something to talk about. There is no pressure to perform. Nothing is forced. We are free to just be in the presence of the other.
So should it be in our relationship with God. In our prayer, our conversation with God, do we always feel the need to be talking? Do we ever stop to listen? God, who loves us and knows us more intimately than any human ever could, exists within us and invites us to just be in the presence of the divine. Obviously, conversation with God and being with God is different from our human relationships. In our interpersonal encounters, we can see the person with whom we are conversing, we can hear their voice on the telephone, or read an email from a friend. With God, we need to trust that He is always there with us, whether we sense Him or not. It is up to us to open ourselves to the possibility of experiencing God. In silence, we can more fully allow ourselves to be open to that possibility.
So, how can we make silence a habit in our lives? Admittedly, it is a challenge. Debra Farrington in "Hearing with the Heart: A Gentle Guide to Discerning God's Will for your Life" (Jossey-Bass, 2003) suggests beginning with just five minutes a day. Perhaps either before or after a time of formal prayer, we can carve out a place for silence. If the background noise of your home is prohibitive, perhaps a walk outside or retreating to the bathroom will provide the needed relief from noise. In that time, Harrington recommends not only attempting to distance ourselves from the sounds of the world, but also from the noise inside our minds. Try not to focus on the problems of the day or the to-do list of chores that need to be done. Try to just be in the presence of God. In time, we should be as comfortable in silence with God as we are with our intimate friends, and we should begin to hear God's voice a little louder in our lives.
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is editor of the "Spiritual Woman Newsletter" (http://www.spiritualwoman.net) and author of "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother" (iUniverse, 2004)