Saturday, April 23, 2011

When Silence is Deafening

If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything in the depths of our hearts, where Christ lives and speaks in silence. We will never be anything, and in the end, when the time comes for us to declare who and what we are, we shall be found speechless at the moment of the crucial decision: for we shall have said everything and exhausted ourselves in speech before we had anything to say.
Those who do not know there is another life after this one, or who cannot bring themselves to live in time as if they were meant to spend their eternity in God, resist the fruitful silence of their own being by continual noise. Even when their own tongues are still, their minds chatter without end and without meaning, or they plunge themselves into the protective noise of machines, traffic, or radios. When their own noise is momentarily exhausted they rest in the noise of other men. How tragic it is that they who have nothing to express are continually expressing themselves, like nervous gunners, firing burst after burst of ammunition into the dark, where there is no enemy.
Trappist monk Thomas Merton shared these thoughts in 1955, before satellite TV, iPods, cell phones, and the internet. These words ring truer today than at any other point in the history of the world. Mulitmedia sources permeate the daily fabric of life and we are no longer even aware of the constant slew of propaganda that defiles the inner sanctuary. And yes, when the machines are absent the mind chatters on, afraid to be still it continues to produce an endless variety of useless information.

Why is it that we have such a strong aversion to silence? Merton went on to say that the dark (silence) into which we fire "burst after burst of ammunition" is nothing less than the fear of death:
The reason for their talk is: death. Death is the enemy who seems to confront them at every moment in the deep darkness and silence of their own being. So they keep shouting at death. They confound their lives with noise. They stun their own ears with meaningless words, never discovering that their hearts are rooted in a silence that is not death but life. They chatter themselves to death, fearing life as if it were death.
I hunger for silence and push it away when served. When I come to Christ I bring my thoughts, my fears, my questions and my gratitude but so rarely do I just sit with him in silence. 

I imagine a lush forest on the edge of a city, a sacred space where one can leave behind the hustle and bustle to meander among the trees and wind and little creatures. I come here to meet Christ and as he approaches I hastily start to tell him about all the things he already knows. I blabber on about who hurt my feelings and how sorry I am about the mess I made and what I'd like him to do for me but when I've finished my dizzying soliloquy I simply wave goodbye and head back to the city. Only occasionally do I continue to walk, waiting patiently for his quiet reply. Even more rarely do I come to the forest simply to enjoy his company and stroll along in silence together.

When we spend time with someone we don't know well silence can be very uncomfortable. We work hard to make conversation and distract ourselves. But in the company of our loved ones we can just be. Maybe I need to consider that the next time I visit the forest.


Anonymous said...

Michelle, Merton is one of my favorites. I just got another of his books "Seeds" and I can't wait to get to it. I have been practicing centering prayer for over a month now, and I find it's the best meditation technique I've ever tried. There is no pressure, and I do feel that I am finding some silence finally wherein God can transform me as he will. Nature of course, is a perfect place to sit in the silence, and Merton treasured more than anything his "hermitage" out in the woods where he spent more and more of his time as the years went by. Blessings this Easter.

Michelle said...

What is the centering prayer technique you're speaking of? I really struggle with meditation.

I have only just discovered Merton and read one book by him. I'm looking forward to reading more!

John said...

This is wonderful and so piercingly true, thanks for sharing both your & Merton's thoughts.

"I hunger for silence and push it away when served." I can so relate to this! And I love the imagery of meeting Christ in the forest, talking endlessly and then returning to the city - most definitely reflects my experience.

I practice Lectio Divina and contemplative prayer, and at times I do find I'm able to cease conjuring up concepts and just "be." I don't know how familiar you are w/ Lectio Divina but Mars Hill (Rob Bell, not Driscoll!) has a great PDF on it:

Also, I bought this book a few months ago:

It's a book of morning, afternoon, evening and night prayers taken 100% from Merton's writings. It's been incredibly valuable.

Here's to finding & being with Christ in the desert where we have no name!

Pippi said...

I often wish that I would shut up, lol. Even while I continue to nervously babble on. It's one of the things I most would like to change about myself.

Michelle said...

Hey John, thanks for the links! I plan to try that Lectio Divina practice. This week I've been challenging myself to be more aware of my thoughts and sit still and quiet my mind... even if only for a few minutes at time. (And I'm going to check out that Merton book if it's at the library!)

LOL Pippi, I can really relate to that! People sometimes think I'm more outgoing than I am because I talk a lot when I get nervous.