When is the last time you enjoyed the experience of silence? A day completely devoid of television, music, idle chatter, telephone rings, traffic, and more?
In our modern and urbanized world, it is difficult to go a full day without a background cacophony of shrill alarms, beeps, and thuds. Coinciding with this constant stream of noise, we often find ourselves rushing through the day, overwhelmed by the sheer number of obstacles in our path. The noise adds to the chaos of our day, reminding us that our time is not our own to enjoy. There is little opportunity for contemplation or rest in the midst of this noise - we cannot simply press pause on the world's sounds.
Or can we?
Robert Sarah, a Guinean Cardinal and Archbishop for the Catholic Church, challenges readers of his book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, to discipline themselves to seek refuge from the world's clamor in order to cultivate a sacred space within ourselves, a silent space in which we can encounter and respond to the voice of God.
Reading this book for my high school alumni theological book club, I have since come to appreciate the beauty of silence in a profound yet simple way. I highly recommend that anyone seeking peace in their lives read Sarah's book and see for themselves the importance of silence.
Sarah argues that silence is necessary in order to receive the Word of God.
According to Sarah: "In a world where shouting and excitement of every kind unceasingly expand their empires, we will need more and more to contemplate and to learn to enter into Christ's silence. The rejection of silence is a rejection of the love and life that come to us from Jesus."
Silence is necessary to grow in our relationships with one another and with God. Without an atmosphere of silence, how can we hear what others, and what God, has to say? In our increasingly busy, noisy, and interconnected lives, it is more important than ever to cultivate a spirit of silence in order to maintain sanity and grow in sanctity.
Sarah's companion, Dysmas De Lassus, compares growing in our relationship with God in silence to growing in an earthly romantic relationship: "At the beginning, speech rules; there is much to discover about the other person. With time, silent presence becomes increasingly prevalent. It is enough to be together because a look expresses more than words do."
So, in order to grow closer to God, we must create for ourselves a space for silent contemplation.
As a busy college student myself, I empathize that cultivating a spirit of silence is challenging. I barely find time in my day to eat three square meals, let alone set aside time for devotion, meditation, and prayer. Yet there is no need to panic. While finding the time and space for silence may be initially difficult, once you begin to make silence a habit, it becomes easier to do so.
Here are four ways to create silence in your everyday life:
Seek out solitude.
"For someone who wants to find silence, solitude is the mountain that he must climb."
While Sarah writes at length about the beauty of monastic life, it is not realistic for all of us to abandon society and join a convent. However, we can carve out times in our days to be alone so that we can focus our attention on heavenly thoughts.
If you live on campus, it can difficult to be alone - but it is worth it to try. Go for solitary runs or walks. After class, take five minutes to sit on a park bench and just think. Put away the phone and tablet; let yourself enjoy a moment of solitude. Even if you're not listening to music, putting in headphones signals to other people not to disturb you. Ask your roommate what his or her schedule is like so you know when you can have the dorm to yourself for an hour or so.
Do whatever you need to in order to spend time by yourself every day. Just a few minutes is enough to clear the mind and allow for silent contemplation.
Seek out an environment.
"Prayer and silence will save the world."
Make sure your surroundings facilitate silence and solitude.
It is difficult to sustain silent reading, prayer, or meditation when one's living quarters are full of clutter and noise. Create a clean and open space that allows for silence. If you live next to noisy neighbors or a busy street, perhaps invest in noise-cancelling headphones. If your dorm is too loud no matter what, seek out space in your campus' library or academic building. If you have access to them, a nearby chapel or park may by the perfect quiet space.
If you're like me and have a problem with accumulating excess stuff, look into donating goods that you no longer use. Resist the urge to buy more material goods, and practice gratitude for the belongings that you already own.
Seek out discipline.
"Love does not need words."
Try to restrain yourself from speaking when you have little to say. This one is challenging for me, but learning to control your tongue will help you grow in maturity as well as silence. Often, we avoid the awkward silences by filling them with idle gossip, chatter, or complaints. Rather than being a person of many words, let us seek to become people of fewer, stronger, more powerful words that ring out with truth, beauty, and love.
Avoid situations when you may be tempted to gossip. Think carefully about a subject before offering an opinion or suggestion - often when problems arise, we extend solutions before even understanding the facets of the issue. For instance, when we hear and see news stories about politicians or world events, let us delve deeper into an issue and ensure that we comprehend it. Especially in our social media world filled with false or vague news headlines, we must be careful to avoid reposting and commenting on an issue that we have little knowledge of.
Restraining yourself from speech is hard, but rewarding. Not only will we have a greater capacity to listen to others, but when we do speak, our words will matter much more.
Discipline also applies to training our minds to cultivate silence. So often, we drift in prayer and meditation - when do so, it is important to keep drawing our minds back to prayer, over and over again.
Seek out Christ.
"There is nothing littler, meeker, or more silent than Christ present in the Host."
Cultivating space for alone time and disciplining ourselves to save our voices for conversations that matter is awesome, but if we lose focus on our reasons for silence, then what is the point?
Cardinal Sarah identifies multiple facets of our faith that we should focus on in our silent moments - prayer, scripture reading, the lives of saints, Mary, and of course, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Let us devote our times of silence to seeking out what truly matters.
Though our modern world often seems to advocate a life of constant noise, it is only in the silence that we are able to maintain a sense of peace and wonder. By devoting time and space to silence, we allow ourselves the ability to encounter each other and God.
As Sarah says, "God drapes himself in silence and reveals himself in the interior silence of our hearts."
Let us create a space of silence in which to dwell and grow.