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Pruning Time, part 4: Silence

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The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply, ‘Create silence!” …The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. — Søren Kierkegaard

Silence is a stern taskmaster, full of angels to be wrestled and demons to be mollified…Going into ourselves we see the whole world at war within us and begin to end the conflict…The Word we seek is speaking in the silence within us.  — Joan Chittister, There Is A Season

Our society is saturated with noise. We are urged to be constantly busy and connected. We’re almost always within reach of the TV, the computer, or some other device that can distract us so that we don’t have to enter silence and confront ourselves or our God.

Critical thinking requires silence. When we’re constantly consuming disconnected bits of news and entertainment we may not notice the broad patterns underlying specific crises they describe; we’re very unlikely to wonder about the stories they don’t tell and the questions they don’t ask.

Our conversations, public and private, suffer for lack of silence. We Tweet and live-blog publicly about speeches and events moment by moment instead of taking time to reflect. We text and chatter on cell phones constantly instead of writing real letters or having attentive conversations and then reflecting on them quietly, alone.  Even in face-to-face conversations we jump in and interrupt each other instead of leaving silences in which we can absorb what the other person is saying. Incessant chatter may numb our loneliness, but it cannot bring us into communion.

Perhaps we avoid silence because, as Joan Chittister writes, silence enables us to hear the cacophony inside ourselves, the clamoring fears, desires and resentments that we would rather ignore, the motives and impulses that we would rather disown. But until we face the darkness in ourselves we are likely to project it onto other people whom we define as enemies, and we are unable to reform ourselves. Once we face our darkness we can respond to our apparent enemies with courage and compassion,  knowing that the same struggle between good and evil takes place in each of us, and we can work together to bring our lives into alignment with our convictions.

If we have courage to abide with the inner cacophony it will eventually be quieted until we are able to hear the still small voice, the Word we seek, speaking in our silence.

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