Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say." - Thomas Merton

We can't handle silence anymore.

I realized awhile ago that I could easily go the entire day without having a moment of real silence. I get up in the morning to a radio alarm, and have the radio on in the bathroom. The TV can be on while I have breakfast/supper, a CD on while I drive to the store, music on at the coffee shop, the radio station at work at for 8 hours, and TV on before I go to bed. During the summer months, I can add the fan I put on in my bedroom to keep it a little cooler for those 90+ degrees days I'm trying to sleep. Even then, I always notice after putting the fan away for the fall how used to it I've grown. It usually takes me a few days to get to sleep normally with relative quiet.

I was reminded of this again last week at church.

To be fair, this is not directed at any one person, and it is not fair to single out my church for this observation -- in fact I think the church I attend is considerably more aware of the potential for overkill and tacky behaviour in the service than others. They are good people, and this isn't a rant directed at them.

Still, it was towards the end of a good sermon by the pastor. While somewhat early (for us Protestant types, at least), the message was on The Cross and the suffering of Christ. Good, traditional, solid preaching. So, at the end of the service, the pastor says he wants it silent as we pray....at which point the guitar player kicks in with the chorus of a modern praise standard. There was no chance for silence, and within a few seconds he started singing the words as well. Not only was it not silent, there wasn't enough time for me to formulate a few thoughts before I was asked to join along with the chorus.

I did a quick Google search of silence, and noted that silence is listed more often as a bad thing ("Do not suffer in silence!" "We shall not be silent!!") than a thing to treasure. The bottom second page finally gets to silence as a spiritual dicipline. Ironically, I also came across two CDs with "The Silence" in their name as well as at least one record label. None of them were John Cage.

I remember talking to someone in college who was visiting a new church. The church, while somewhat contemporary in style, had a few moments of genuine silence in the middle for people to think and pray without competition from other sources. This person couldn't handle it, and stated she couldn't go back if that was commonplace. Even a year ago I was out in the country, far from a paved road. For the first time in awhile, I realized it was totally quiet, unlike the city. I realized again how easy it is to add layers of sound to your life and not even notice.

Admittingly the world around us is not silent these days. If I open a window, I can hear the Interstate going by, something my older neighbors didn't deal with decades ago. Popular music is almost entirely silence-free, same with modern music at the church. You walk into a store, and the chances are likely you'll hear music at best, advertisements at worst.

I work at a radio station, a place where I have around 5 sources of audio I need to monitor for most of my shift. Silence is a killer for us, something we are trained to avoid. I even had something called a "silence sensor," telling me if one of the audio sources isn't working correctly. If something happens and one of the computers running the station crashes, I have a button to push that will play instrumental music until things are fixed. If a listener catches silence on our station, they are likely to flip the dial, so we avoid it as much as possible. If I hear more than a few seconds of silence, I know something is wrong.

Recently, I'm forcing myself to spend time in silence. Not (always) "silent prayer" type silence, but just silence. It's not that I expect a great revelation from God from it, or expect to become more at peace with life. It's just something I think needs to be done, a sort of detox when you have sound coming at you for most of your day.

"Experience teaches us that silence terrifies people the most." - Bob Dylan


Blogger Slimey said...

Working with kids, I am also unused to silence -- we are also taught that if there is a "big" silence, something is probably wrong.

So when I get home and turn on my computer, I sometimes wonder if it's strange that I don't instantly plug into one of the iTunes playlist I've worked so hard to create. This blog makes me feel a little better about sitting in enough quiet to notice when the furnace kicks in or when a neighbor gets home as I reply to the daily e-mails.

Thank you.


4:19 PM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Silence is a really great thing.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Beverly said...

Thanks for the great post. I identify with so much of what you said...even to the music during the prayer. As soon as the pastor prayers, the pianist starts quietly playing. I have found that distracting as well. We have indeed lost the ability to be still.

3:36 PM  

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