It’s nothing new. And as much as we might like, we cannot blame it in on the hand-held devices and screens that seem to be inescapable. No, the cause is much deeper than this. I am speaking of NOISE. Everywhere we turn we are surrounded by noise of some kind, and often the kind of noise that stirs up anxiety within. We can hardly enter a public space without some piped-in music or televisions blaring, making it near impossible to carry on a conversation or perhaps consider one’s thoughts. These distractions are keeping us from something that is absolutely essential for human flourishing: silence.
Why is silence important? Silence opens us to wonder, and to consider what may or ought not come out of us. Jesus was quite clear when he said that, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matthew 15.11). Jesus is addressing Jewish purity laws about eating certain kinds of flesh, as opposed to others. He’s not saying, “Go ahead and eat fried foods to your hearts fill,” that they won't cause high cholesterol—because it will. Rather, Jesus is suggesting that the stuff we say to others—the stuff that flies out of the mouth when we’re frustrated or angry—is what damages, because it damages our relationships with each other, our relationship with God. Silence, however, is the soul’s remedy to our world’s endless chatter.
Silence opens me to deal with my own thoughts and actions, instead of constantly projecting my anxieties onto another’s words, beliefs, or actions. Silence affords me the opportunity to deal with me, to deal with my complicity in the evil of this world, in the actions of others—both good or bad. Silence opens me to consider my response to others or to my environment before I react. However, silence is not something a person can muster on a moment’s notice. Silence is a habit, and only when it is a habit does it transform our sensibilities.
We all need time and space for silence. Even Jesus went off into the woods and deserts to pray, away from distractions—away from other people. AND, he was always in the synagogue (Luke 4), worshipping with the people of Israel. Each implies the other. Without the prayer and rhythm of the Body, which can be, at times, loud and noisy, I am less myself. However, without time and space for silence and quiet prayer, I cannot be who I ought to be, in order that the Body become who we ought to be together in Christ.
We need both the fellowship and worship of the Body AND the spacetime silence affords for wrestling with our demons. Only then will we be able to focus on the purpose of the Gospel “to bring good news to the poor,… to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4.18).
As one Native American teacher once said, 'There are two dogs in me that are always fighting, one good and one evil. The one that wins is the one I feed the most.' The world needs now more than ever people who are willing to listen with ears that hear—to feed the good within, so to quell anxiety and make room for peace. Our prayerful silence can filter the noisy toxins that fill our society, so that what comes out of us is clean air, filling our communities with the oxygen of the Spirit. Then will faith, hope, and love newly fill our lungs with the Joy and Peace of the Anointed, Jesus Christ.