Finding Silence in a Noisy World
Music. Podcasts. Video games. Scrolling through a smartphone… in our modern world we have a tendency to fill up every empty moment with something, whether it’s song lyrics, entertainment, or a jump down the rabbit hole of social media.
We fill most moments with noise -- perhaps partly because we enjoy music and our Xbox and the occasional interaction on social media, but there comes a point when noise simply becomes a welcome distraction from the silence of our own hearts and minds. Why do we, whether intentionally or not, try so hard to avoid being alone with just our thoughts to keep us company?
The Value of Silence
Perhaps because when it’s quiet, we start to think. Distractions keep us from our own thoughts -- they keep us from confronting our own anxieties and worries, imperfections and failures. The chaos that constant noise creates in our minds drowns out our interior voice and helps us avoid facing the realities of our lives with too much focus. In other words, sometimes it’s just easier to turn up the volume and just stop thinking.
But there is great value in silence. Silence gives rise to contemplation; and in this solitude we are able to quiet the busyness of our lives and better listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospels we read how Jesus retreated to the silence of the desert for 40 days to pray. Monks and religious sisters spend hours a day in silent, prayerful contemplation. And we spend a few moments in silence before Mass begins. So silence clearly plays an important role in clearing out the messiness of our minds to make more room for God to work.
Though it can be hard -- and even uncomfortable -- to find and foster silence in a world that offers us ample opportunity for noise, God speaks to us in silence -- which is why we should occasionally take out our earbuds, mute our smartphones, and make it a priority to find silence in a noisy world.
Why Choose Silence Over Noise?
Hitting “play” on the latest podcast episode is sometimes easier than working, walking, folding laundry, or driving in silence. So why choose silence?
Listening to God
One reason is that if we’re constantly engulfed in noise, we can’t listen to God.
“Sounds and emotions detach us from ourselves, whereas silence always forces man to reflect upon his own life. “ - Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence
But silence is boring, you say. This is where contemplation comes in -- silence with intention. St. Teresa of Avila wrote that, “Contemplative prayer… is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” It’s hard to be “alone” with the Lord when we have YouTube blaring in our ears or when we’re mindlessly clicking through Instagram stories.
The Catechism takes it a bit further, saying that contemplation is being alone with God in prayer where “our attention is fixed on the Lord himself” (CCC 2709). Contemplation, then, is silence in the service of prayer -- and it can happen any time you allow silence into your day! When you prioritize silence instead of filling the void with noise, it becomes much easier to not only hear God’s voice but also receive the peace of Christ anywhere… whether you’re going for a walk, driving down the interstate, folding laundry, or cooking dinner.
God Speaks into Silence
Conversely, God speaks to us in silence.
“It is best to learn to silence the faculties and to cause them to be still, so that God may speak.” - St. John of the Cross
When we’re constantly distracted, it’s hard for us to pick up on the gentle nudges and promptings of the Holy Spirit. But silence gives God a place to speak into our lives and give us His peace.
Filling every pause, every minute of free time, every moment of our day with some kind of noise or distraction leaves no room for God. God comes to us silently and gently -- and we can’t quiet our hearts and minds to hear his voice if the world is pulling us in a dozen different directions.
How to Find Silence in a Noisy World
Think of a time when you saw a spectacle in nature or in life itself that was literally breathtaking: an impressive mountain range. A beautiful, gently rolling stream. The vast expanse of the ocean. Think of a time when your response to beauty and majesty was… silence.
This is the “awe” with which we can (and should!) view God, and we can do that more focusedly and intently when we tune out distractions and place ourselves in silent contemplation.
- Turn the radio off. The easiest way to find silence throughout your day is to simply turn off that which is causing noise! Opt instead for saying a rosary or just allowing yourself to be alone with your thoughts. This is also a great opportunity to contemplate a specific quality of God… His love, mercy, or patience.
- Prudent speech. One of more difficult ways to bring silence into your day is to apply it to speech -- this means thinking twice before you say exactly what comes to mind, especially when it comes to social situations.
- Silence in nature. Nature is incredibly conducive to contemplation! Leave your earbuds at home the next time you go for a walk, a run, or a hike. Take in the sounds of the birds in the trees, the breeze in the air, and traffic nearby.
Go Into the Desert of Silence
Silent contemplation isn’t something you have to work hard to accomplish -- the point is that in silence, you have the opportunity to more peacefully think of God and, more importantly, allow God to gently come to you throughout the day.
“Christ lived for thirty years in silence. Then, during his public life, he withdrew to the desert to listen to and speak with his Father. The world vitally needs those who go off into the desert. Because God speaks in silence.” - Robert Cardinal Sarah
In a noisy world, it can be difficult and even uncomfortable to opt for silence. But the contemplative, spiritual life requires silence if we are to both listen for the voice of the God in our lives, and hear Him clearly when He speaks. May we be people who don’t hesitate to wander into the desert on our own, in search of silence and of God Himself!