Saturday, April 16, 2011


Holy Week has approached us with a somewhat lethargic speed.  Lethargic because it is so late in the year... however, speedy, because it is always upon us far too quickly to take stock adequately of our Lenten accomplishments and failures.  But, in some ways, my saying this is rather contrived, cliched, and unexciting.

Yet, there is an element of truth here: we have a hard time keeping our resolve.  Our ability to stand firm to any myriad of resolutions wavers amidst the struggles of our times, the weakness of our frail nature, and the plight of our souls in seeking perfection.  I argue, however, that even in this last week of Lent, there is a practice we can cultivate most readily-- even outside of this penitential time: Silence.

We are all aware of the depths to which our hearts can delve, and we are further aware of the joys and ecstasies, with what can seem almost near exact vividness, that our minds and bodies are subject to.  This is part of the practical life of the person.  Our sorrows and our joys form the substance of our experiences, they serve to define our past and contextualize the future.  Yet, many persons fail to react properly to these joys and sorrows.  We are mentally adrift, floating from one distracting noise to another.  Persons ignore the benefit, and further the necessity, of silence and of inner contemplation.

Think of it,-- even here in the world of the blog-- we are so bombarded by the constant message, the constant urge to be "in-touch," whether through twitter, facebook, or some other channel.  Regardless of where we are or what we are doing, there seems to be the incessant nagging of noise.  Noises, which somehow demand our attention in ways potentially more engrossing than the voice of a loved one, or the needs of a child.  We are distracted from the immediate, displaced mentally and emotionally.  Our focus is more frantic and we become lost in a sea of pithy messages, flashing pictures, and annoying notifications.  There is no rest for the eyes and ears, no solace for the soul. 

This style of interaction leaves us dry, and in a state of constant need.  The interior life-- one of introspection, self-critique, and thoughtfulness-- dissipates, as we are driven to succor in things that provide us with momentary occupation and we seek to be distracted, and never involved.  Our heart remains on the surface of things, never delving into the core of questions, persons, and being.

The bustle of this distracted state of life does no good to the development of a sense of understanding, both of the world and of self.  The light which ought to shine upon our own heart dims, dust collects on our ability to see ourselves clearly, and we lose focus, finding perceptions once sharp to be distorted and distant.  Our internal voice has acquired a type of laryngitis, and our hearing has grown poor.  In a profound way, we forget how to communicate with our own self.

Fostering this then is done best under the mantle of silence.

Silence-- or the ability and the atmosphere to keep still in one's heart and in one's surroundings-- encompasses the person in an awareness of themselves, the movements of the spirit, and the beauty of the world.  It allows for the world to present itself fully, thus engaging the person in a discourse of being, where truth, beauty, and goodness are unfolded.  Silence is best characterized then by a sense of fullness, where the senses take into themselves the grandeur that is there to behold.  Take for example a trek through the mountains: One is still and alone with one's thoughts (if one is without company), the only other company is the spectacle of the world that lays itself at the feet of one perceiving.  This sort of silence fully enables the person to embrace the experience of the created world not merely as one looking out upon it, but also as one observing one's self.  One's sense of who one is as a created and rationally perceptive and spiritual being is magnified, and our thinking grows more acute, more attentive, and more profound.

Another example of silence is that which lovers may be prone to.  As they lose sight of themselves and focus more on the other, they turn themselves into vessels which are filled by the beloved, bringing them to the point at which by merely being in the other's presence, nothing more is needed as they find contentment and solace, soothed by the consolation that they are living out a promise to love eternally with a grateful, giving, and gracious heart.

Silence, furthermore, acts as a barrier against the barrage of contemporary messaging, media, and manipulation, by providing us the framework within which to contemplate and evaluate, so that our minds and hearts remain fresh and awake, rather then busied and bored.  By having a mind and heart that is fresh and awake we more readily engage with the world in an authentic sense-- sincerity of spirit becomes a token of our interactions, and we begin to have hope as we recognize the necessity of the retreat into silence, into contemplation, and into the mystery of being.

Silence, however, is not an escape.  Rather, it is the proper way by which we can more thoroughly understand ourselves and the world.  It is the manner by which God speaks to us in the very midst of our person, and it is the path by which we can strive to find the ways to love more completely, to give more faithfully, and to know more truly.

With this last week, we can certainly resolve to practice silence-- both as a way to meditate upon Our Lord's most dolorous passion, but also as a way to offer up a gift of our time to see the beauty of the world and our souls more perfectly. 

[It may not seem obvious, but my immediate inspirations for this piece come from the variety of Martin Heidegger's works, which focus very much on the phenomenology of the natural world and its ability to teach us manners by which we can come to know things and the world they are part of; and Josef Pieper's The Silence of St. Thomas, which does much to aid the student in recognizing the importance of mystery in God and the created world.]