The Sound of Silence
Or perhaps, the ‘Fear of Silence’?
Deep Thought – A bi-monthly feature in ReCharge
Maybe we fear silence because we think it will be empty.By Denise Stephenson
Each morning I listen to a short, guided meditation using the Lectio 365 app. Every day, the morning begins with these words:
“As I enter prayer now, I pause to be still; to breathe slowly, to re-centre my scattered senses upon the presence of God.”1
These words fall on me, inviting me to detach myself from all that has been happening, and all that will unfold during the day, inviting me to turn my attention from the storm of life and curl up beside Jesus in the stern of the boat. (Mark 4:35-41)
I long for quiet spaces. Constant noise, whether it is chatter, traffic, background music, exhaust fans (the worst!) makes me irritated, unsettled and distracted. But quiet spaces are becoming rarer in our public and private lives. People are, it seems, uncomfortable with silence and go to great lengths to avoid it.
Having been a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader for over 22 years, I have seen how unsettled people become when a moment of silence begins to draw out from seconds to minutes. Many people become restless, anxious and fearful. The pressure is on to bring the silence to a close. In a group of people, someone often seems compelled to say something to end the silence.
Why do we fear silence so much?
Diving through the ‘surface’ of ourselves, of the noise and chatter of our lives, we find a deeper current of peace
Maybe it is because when we quiet our mouth, our mind goes into overdrive. All the thoughts buried under busyness have space to express themselves and they hammer at the door of our mind, demanding to be heard. This feels overwhelming, but if “we allow our mind to simply listen, we perhaps begin to hear our heart speak – faintly, beneath the clatter. It says, ‘I am so weary, so lost. I have no energy to redeem myself. How I long for rest.”2
When we dive beneath the surface of a stormy sea, we leave the turmoil on the surface. Only a few meters down, the water is perfectly calm. This image can help us as we come to prayer: diving through the ‘surface’ of ourselves, of the noise and chatter of our lives, we find a deeper current of peace.
Quiet prayer tunes in to the deeper current of our innermost desires and fears. When we bring this deeper self to God in prayer, God speaks in ways that bring healing, hope and strength.3
The unsettling, uncomfortable experience of silence, or quietness, that we may experience arises from our unfamiliarity with this space.
Places that were once quiet (libraries, cinemas, churches) aren’t anymore. Quiet spaces are counter-cultural and becoming rare, and yet we need these spaces to give meaning to our lives.
Without the silent listening after our words of prayer, we cannot hear God’s speaking to our heart:
– A pause following a friend sharing from the heart, allows the words to be honoured. It stops us hurrying carelessly to words.
– In the silence, after someone breathes their final breath, we hear the release from pain and the sense the soul’s ending.
– In the quiet of waiting for another to arrive we experience our longing for connection.
Sitting in the stillness
Practicing stillness, quiet, and silence, grows a sacred space within
Maybe we fear silence because we think it will be empty. But silence can be rich with meaning, and emotion. It takes conscious intention to notice the quiet pauses in daily living.
It takes practice to sit in the stillness. You may think there is nowhere quiet in your life. You might be surprised. Moments of quiet are all around us – but we need to tune in to where these moments are. Turn off the tv, just for a moment – mute the sound during the ad breaks; take your earpods out and stare out the window; lift your eyes from the screen as you drink your coffee. Just take a quiet moment.
Practicing stillness, quiet, and silence, grows a sacred space within that resonates with the Spirit’s presence in us.
So, let’s pause to be still; to breathe slowly, to re-centre our scattered senses upon the presence of God.4
Denise Stephenson is a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader, who completed her formation training at Wellspring Centre (Melbourne) in 2000. She continues to practice as a Spiritual Director, leads prayer days, retreats and workshops, focused on introducing contemplative spirituality and practice to those who have not experienced it.
She has attended LifeWay Baptist Church for most of her life, being part of the Leadership team for many years, working as Office Manager, and then as Pastor for Spiritual Formation 2018-2020.
Since moving to Lymington in the Huon Valley in 2021, Denise and her husband Mark (in partnership with LifeWay Baptist Church) are exploring growing a community of faith centred round their Long Table, food, hospitality and contemplative practice.
- Lectio 365 app https://www.24-7prayer.com/resource/lectio-365/
- Henri J. M. Nouwen
- Margaret Silf, Taste and See: Adventuring into Prayer, Darton Longman and Todd, London, 2000pp10-11.
- Lectio 365 app
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