Looking for Silence?

On Sunday at church the guy who preached took a risk. He spoke on 1 Kings 19, where Elijah runs away from Jezebel to the Mountain of God and encounters God there. The Lord appeared not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in silence. Preacher guy announced that we don’t like silence and that we are always trying to fill silence with noise. Then he walked off the stage. The rest of his message came via powerpoint as we sat in silence. We could hear the silence. Pews creaked. That electrical/mechanical background hum that is always present in powered buildings became obvious. He gave us more than 5 minutes of silence sometimes without words on the screen. I didn’t time it. I kind of liked it.

I like silence, audio silence, as I’m noise-sensitive. But I realized in the silence Sunday morning that, as much as I seek soundless silence, I fill the soundlessness with something else. I fill it with words or pictures. The voice in my head doesn’t shut up.

Also, I like silence, but I like to be alone in silence, or at least with comfortable friends. Being with a lot of people at church in silence was odd.

I’ve been wondering what other people fill silences with. Upstairs, my landlady fills silence with random noise. She makes noise as she works at things. She doesn’t use words, just makes audible sighs. I don’t know how else to describe what she does. It drives me crazy. I want to yell SHUT UP! But I don’t think she even realizes what she’s doing. She’s just filling silence.

I talked about the filling of silence with my spiritual director. She suggested, and I think that she is right, that even if we like exterior silence, it takes a lot of time and practice to shut down the interior noise so that we can hear God. Being truly silent is hard work even if we can shut down the exterior noise, the sounds all around us of music, chat, machines, the city. Internal silence is much more challenging for me to practice than external silence.

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