Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
In the mid 1960’s there was a popular folk song that played the airwaves: The Sounds of Silence. It was originally written in the wave of national grief that followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, this song actually reaches far beyond the historical event and touches a fountain of great spiritual depth. Consider a couple lines from the song: "Hello darkness, my old friend I've come to talk with you again . . .The words of the prophets are written. . .And whispered in the sounds of silence." A very appropriate reflection for the start of Spring comes from the saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. . . .We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
The value of silence cuts across so many religious traditions. The prophet Habakkuk (2: 20) instructed the Jews: "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Buddhists find in silence the meaning of the universe: "When a man knows the solitude of silence, and feels the joy of quietness, he is then free from fear and he feels the joy of the dharma [basic principles of the cosmos].i In the Islamic tradition Rumi notes: "I implored the sage in earnest last night to unveil the mysteries of the universe. He whispered softly in my ear, "Silence! It is something to perceive but never to say."ii
Spring appears this month. Nature comes leaping into life. The question is: do we see it? Do we hear it? Do we appreciate it? The Psalmist (18:1) tells us: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of His hands." But are we silent enough to see God, or are we so caught up in the cacophony that makes up so much of the modern world that we are blinded to the beauty that is God's creation?
The worth of silence for the Eastern Church Fathers cannot be overestimated. St. Isaac of Syria tells us: "What watering is to plants is exactly the same as continual silence for the growth of spiritual knowledge." (Brock, 1997). Abba Poeman of the Desert taught his monks: "If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live." (Ward, 1975). Finally consider the wisdom of Abba Pambo, who, when told to say something that would edify a visiting Archbishop, replied: "If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech. (Ward, 1975).
Brock, S., trans. (1997). The Wisdom of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres Oxford, England: SLG Press, Convent of the Incarnation.
Ward, B. (1975). The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trappist, KY: Cistercian Publications.