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Our Fear of Silence

Jan 19, 2022

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

Today, I wanted to discuss the problem of silence, the crisis of silence, perhaps the terror of silence…for you.

Our modern culture abhors silence.  It treats silence as a vacuum – the absence of good, as though it were evil.  And our modern culture has taken the most exquisite form of distraction, of noise, of internal and external stimuli to the highest level of development ever seen in the history of humankind.

In other words, as a culture in our era, we are farther from silence than any other time and place has ever been.

And that’s a problem.  Why?  Because it is in the silence that we encounter God.  That’s why.  In the intimacy of silence, in the trust of silent companionship.  Let’s learn from the experienced of the prophet Elijah:

And [God] said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  1 Kings 19:11-13

God spoke in the stillness.  We require the silence to sense God.  He’s got going to shout over the distractions with which we numb ourselves.  He’s not going to force his way into our consciousness.

Two books I am recommending this week.  And again, I never get compensated for promoting any products here – if I promote them, I believe in them, and there’s no financial benefit to me.

Robert Cardinal Sarah:  The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.

Fr. Thomas Acklin, OSB and Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB: Personal Prayer: A Guide for Receiving the Father’s Love

Either of these will help you really grip on to how essential silence is in the spiritual life.

The problem is that we have many psychological reasons to drown out silence with noise.

But we don’t tolerate silence well, for so many reasons.  Part of us can misinterpret silence in relationship as distance, coldness, disapproval, disdain.  Other parts of us are very concerned the exiled shame, fear, anger, grief, or other intense, unresolved experiences may escape from their prisons within us if we allow silence.  If we allow silence their voices of desperation and distress may be heard.  So turn on Netflix, let’s get a new game of Call of Duty or Angry Birds going, let’s listen to music, let’s surf the internet, let’s put on another podcast, let’s start texting someone, anyone, let’s do whatever, to distract us from the silence.

But that’s not the way.

Now I am by no means immune from this, I’m not speaking to you from some lofty perch of righteousness and virtue.  Right now, my father is dying of COVID in a hospital room, with very limited visitation.  I’m really stirred up inside about it, a lot going on in my parts.  My relationship with my father has been difficult in a number of ways (it’s a special cross for parents to have a child who is a psychologist).

As my father dies, am I naturally inclined to seek out God in the silence?  Am I spontaneously seeking out the quietness of prayer to relate intimately and deeply with my spiritual mother Mary?

No I am not.  I am seeking to distract myself.  With chess puzzles online.  Yep, chess puzzles.  And online is best, because you get your ratings and immediate solutions and feedback.  That’s my thing.  Chess puzzles. Online.  With chess puzzles, I can keep my mind and my emotions very distracted, very disconnected from the pain, from the grief of losing my father by noodling away on chess puzzles.

Here’s where a spiritual plan of life and a human formation plan of life come in so helpful.  I have regular times during the day when I pray and when I work on my human formation.  Those help me re-center, re-engage with what is important, to reconnect with silence

A measure of psychological and spiritual well being is how well you can be silent.  You don’t believe me?  Here’s a test.  The silence test.  Set a time for five minutes.  Just five minutes.  Then, practice being absolutely silent for those five minutes.  See what happens.  I want to hear about it, email me what happens in your silence.  Notice what comes up for you in the silence.

You’ll find out something about yourself, something really important if you try five minutes of silence with serious effort.

In closing, I ask that you please pray for my father, Robert Stephen Malinoski, for the grace of a good death – he has asked for Last Rites and confession, which is so good.  And for my mother, Lynne Malinoski, on whom his death will fall very heavily.  And for me and my sisters, Ann and Mary.  Thank you.  May God and our Lady bless and keep you.

Dr. Peter

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