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The (rare) sound of silence

mine/all rights reserved
This post originally appeared as a column for In the Open Space at MWR.

I read a post on Twitter by a man who was on his way to a silent retreat with a group of monks. In the midst of my stay-at-home-mom, noisy, constantly-moving life, I thought to myself: Carving out time for silence is a luxury in our culture.

When I posted that idea on Twitter, @track7grrl tweeted back that she drives in silence without music — which is her favorite solace — because “I have basically found I crave silence more than solace.”

I resonate with that. While things like music bring us comfort, relief and consolation, we need silence, too. But silence is hard to come by in our culture, and without it, even our solaces can become part of the noise.

Tim Kreider recently wrote an essay for The New York Times, “The Quiet Ones,” in which he describes an Amtrak Quiet Car as a last refuge of civility and calm in a cellphone-ringing, music-blaring, TV-playing, electronic-ad-displaying world. The world has grown increasingly loud, Kreider observed.

“People are louder, too,” he wrote. “Respecting shared public space is becoming as quaintly archaic as tipping your hat to a lady, now that the concept of public space is as nearly extinct as hats, and ladies.”

The other day, I was trying on running shoes at a department store. When I entered the shoe section, a woman was pacing the aisles talking on her cellphone to a friend about her frustrations with her husband. When I left 15 minutes later, she was still there — and all those within hearing range knew as much about her troubled marriage as her friend.

We live in a noisy world. Even as I type, the dishwasher swishes and jazz plays off Pandora Internet radio. We have more information coming at us than at any other time in history. It’s not only the television, Internet and ad-centered public space. It’s also our texting, cellphone, email and social media communication, be it sought-out conversations or overheard ones.

For a while, I tune it out. But, like a mother whose kids’ play finally reaches a din, I become suddenly aware of it and want to cup my hands over my ears. I crave silence. I need a rest from the noise and all the things the noise represents.

I think it is part of our nature, this craving for silence. It goes to the deepest part of us, beyond a need to rest from something to a need to rest in something.

“There is nothing you need to do here,” Adele Ahlberg Calhoun said in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. “Silence is a time to rest in God. Lean into God, trusting that being with him in silence will loosen your rootedness in the world and plant you by streams of living water. It can form your life even if it doesn’t solve your life.”

When I take a moment to rest like that, I am taking time to simply be the way I was created to be, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). As The Message puts it, “He is your life.”

In silence, the roots of my soul drink deep from living water. I remember who I am. And, while it may not change the circumstances of my life, it does form how I go back into them.

Silence helps us find our greatest solace of all.

I may not be able to find days of silence like the man heading off to spend time with the monks. But I can turn off the dishwasher and music and rest in God for whatever time life allows. Sometimes, that’s all I need in order to carve some silence into open spaces.