Profound silence. That was my experience, and most vivid memory, of my brief visit to Badwater Basin within Death Valley National Park. It is the hottest, driest, lowest, and, most profoundly silent, place in North America. Yes, it was blazing hot, sure it was bone dry, and the sign said it was hundreds of feet below sea level, but what I remember the most is that it was dead silent. It was an uncomfortable silence that I have not experienced before or since.
Moments of uncomfortable silence stand out in our memory. Oftentimes, they are accompanied by negative feelings or complaints, an urge to place blame, or defensiveness. “How could you let this happen?” Perhaps the most pertinent example comes from the Gospel of Matthew (27:46), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The biblical word for this emotion is lament and it points directly to Psalm 22. Paradoxically, what begins as lament ends with praise. Read the Psalm.
How do we get from lament to praise? From groaning to growing? God gives us time and space to get on board. He gives us silence to ponder His works and to align ourselves freely with His purposes. Think of a child growing silently in a mother’s womb or spring flowers moving slowly (and silently) towards full bloom. We can’t hear this process, but we can surely see the fruits!
The Psalms are a heart-felt movement from lament to praise and can serve as a guide in the journey from groaning to growing. The Psalms do not hold back and neither should we. For example, have you said all that you need to say? What’s holding you back? What is left unsaid at this point? God knows, but still wants to hear it. The “it” consists of the nutrients needed for growth. God’s silence facilitates your moving forward in the ways He has designed for you.
God’s silence becomes deafening whenever He is not doing what we want Him to do whenever we want Him to do it and in the manner we would have Him do it. It is frustrating not getting what we want whenever we want it, but perhaps instead we get what we need when we need it. Silence is an uncomfortable place in a world full of noise, but we need to let silence do the heavy lifting to shift us to a broader and wiser perspective. How might you create and cultivate periods of silence? When might you press pause and listen deeply? Perhaps take the following prescription from the Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard:
“If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence.”
We speak because God listens and we listen because God speaks. We pray because we want to grow in Christ and a prayerful relationship requires time to speak and a time to listen (Ecclesiastes 3:7). When it’s time to speak, don’t hold back, but when it’s time to listen, listen with everything you have got including and/or excluding your ears!
Let’s troubleshoot for a moment. How far are you from God? Is it possible to hide from God, no, but do you try regardless? Do you frequent the Sacraments? Have you spent time with God in His Scriptures, especially the Gospels? Do you practice works of mercy? You will encounter God in these places, but what if it is too loud to hear His “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). Humility is silent and loud is proud. Silence is needed.
Cardinal Robert Sarah says, “Silence is difficult but it makes a human being able to allow himself to be led by God. Silence is born of silence. Through God the silent one we can gain access to silence. And a human being is unceasingly surprised by the light that bursts forth then. Silence is more important than any other human work. For it expresses God. The true revolution comes from silence; it leads us toward God and others so as to place ourselves humbly and generously at their service.”
Seek refuge from the noise! What must God say that He has not already said or done? What else do you want from Him? Action speaks louder than words and God is moving! He listens because He loves us and His love is working even now. His purposes are being fulfilled. God’s Word is action and His definitive action is for all time and reverberates throughout His creation. Even the hottest, driest, and lowest places of creation point to the Creator and perhaps it is during these moments of silence that God’s love is made manifest.