The Sight & Sound of Silence


Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

Psalms 45:11 (LXX) 46:10 (MT)

Our world is a noisy place & we are a noisy people. It seems that one cannot go anywhere without experiencing noise. I am not only referring to our sense of hearing the sounds of our world such as the natural sounds of coyotes howling, crickets chirping or bees buzzing or of music playing or people talking. Rather I refer to all of the chatter & clatter of our world, noise produced in order to avoid quiet & silence. Retailers broadcast music in their stores that appeals to their clientele in hopes to bolster sales. The dental & medical offices pipe in soft & quiet music that soothes their patients. Who among us has not heard the local teen driver’s ear-splitting thump, thump, thumping-bass coming down the road long before they come into sight? This noise is not only audible, but can also be visual. At the risk of dating myself, I grew up looking for the “blue light special” in which a flashing blue light would draw customers to the latest retail bargain. Our cities & towns are full of bright flashing neon signs to lure & attract us.

In actuality these things are distractions. As a child my school teachers always advocated turning off radios & televisions so that we could focus our minds on learning our lessons at home. I must admit in all honesty that I did not. You can hardly get the attention of a young person today due to their music players, cell phones, and texting or gaming devices. Children today cannot study their lessons without some sort of background noise. Many a time I have been in a home where I wished the family would turn off the noisy din from the radio &/or television so that we could engage in decent conversation. It seems that we just do not like to be quiet. Perhaps it is because our thoughts are so noisy? Quiet & silence are not the lack of sound. We miss so much when we allow the noise of the world to block out the quiet.

We may even miss God Himself! There is a link between stillness & drawing near to God. The Holy Scriptures teach us to “Be still, & know that I am God;” The Church Fathers teach us to pursue the ascetic discipline of silence, or more properly “inner stillness” (hesychia). St. John Climacus, author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, wrote: “The lover of silence draws close to God.” Perhaps this is the reason why we do not like to be silent; it makes us uncomfortable. When we are silent & thus undistracted by the world around us, we begin to “hear” & to “see” God. Not by means of physical sights & sounds typical of hearing & seeing with our physical eyes & ears, but rather by means of the spiritual eyes & ears of our heart. We begin to see spiritually our own separation, our sin & our insignificance by contrast. In other words we begin to sense Him—His absolute omnipotence, His absolute mercy & His absolute love—His absolute “otherness”.

We begin to know in an almost experiential fashion that He is God. This is very humbling. Generally we do not like to be humbled. We like to think that we are the ultimate controllers of our own destiny. When we are still before God we begin know the falsity of this worldly mindset. So we, just as did Adam & Eve in the garden, cover our nakedness of discomfort & humiliation with the fig leaves of noise. Thus we too attempt to hide by inserting the world back between ourselves & God. We give our eyes & ears something else on which to focus, as if God does not exist since we cannot see or hear him.

However, there is another option. My prayer book daily exhorts me: “Having risen from sleep, before any other action, stand reverently, considering thyself to be in the presence of the All-seeing God, &, having made the sign of the Cross, say: ‘In the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ Then pause a moment, until all thy senses are calmed & thy thoughts forsake all things earthly; & then make three bows, saying: ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’” Repentance is the key to erasing our separation, healing our sin & reversing our insignificance before God; not the empty substitutions from our physical world. Again in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus writes concerning repentance: “Repentance is the renewal of baptism & is a contract with God for a fresh start in life…Repentance is the daughter of hope & the refusal to despair. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord…It is the purification of conscience…” Rather than regress in humiliation into the world, we should progress in humility into union with God. Therefore, let us listen to & remember in faith & repentance the ancient 6th c. Cherubic Hymn:

“Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity, Lay aside all earthly cares, That we may receive the King of all, Who comes invisibly upborne by the angelic hosts. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

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