The Beauty of Silence
I suspect I have written about silence about a hundred times! It reminds me how often I have told congregations and classes of students that I probably only have about four major points in my outlook on life and the way I make sense of things. Certainly life is complex and my life feels that way some of the time. But I don’t think that necessarily means our philosophy or theology has to be complex. In fact I think simplicity is called for.
Simplicity does not mean that the complexity disappears. But simplicity becomes a way to understand the complexity---even if we don’t understand all the details of the complex. I know the universe if far too complex for my little mind to understand. Most of the time I assume astrophysicists, molecular biologist and neuroscientist understand the complexity of our world far better than I do. But I doubt that any of them could lean back in a chair and say, “There, I know it all!”
I do know there are many, many words to describe the complexity of our world. I think I know a great deal of words, but when I look at a dictionary, I am humbled. Or when I talk to one of my scientist friends, I know how little I know. Of course, I can talk all day long. Even someone with a limited vocabulary can talk all day long. All of my grandkids were pretty verbal when they were young with still a relatively small vocabulary and they could talk all day long!
We all know that talking all day long does not mean something significant was said. The same can be said for tv watchers. I don’t abstain from tv. I like to watch sports, news, specials, etc. Certainly not everything I watch is edifying. But I also know there is so much on the tube that I consider junk. This reminds me that I can use words and I can listen to other people’s words and know that I am a junk dealer!
I love words, but I know there is a time and a place for words. Sometimes the very best thing that can be said is nothing! Maybe it is because I am an introvert, but I have always been ok with saying nothing. Maybe it is because I am a Quaker that I am ok with no one saying anything for a period of time. I have never thought that it is wrong to conclude nothing is happening if there are no words being spoken. In fact, just the opposite is true for me. I refuse to believe just because words are being spoken, something real or important is happening. In some cases the only thing happening is junk dealing.
This brings me to what I call the beauty of silence. I hesitated to use the word, beauty, to describe silence. I wondered if the word, beauty, had to refer to visual things, like paintings, sunsets and babies? Clearly, this is the usual context for the word, beauty. But I also feel that limits the word. I think it is appropriate to describe silence as beautiful. I have been to the top of a mountain and sitting on the beach of an ocean. I have sat with people when not one word was being said. These times of silence were beautiful.
Of course, it is important not to equate silence with lack of noise. Silence is not the same as noiselessness. At the top of a mountain, I may be very aware of the wind even though I am deep in silence. Sitting at ocean side is usually not noiseless, but I can hear waves and be silent. I try to think my way into why silence is beautiful.
Silence is beautiful because it invites us into places of profundity. So many words and conversations are superficial. Silence makes space opening us to the possibility of profundity. When this happens to me, my heart feels like it grows bigger. I get the sense that life has been touched in ways that make me feel privileged. Often I feel at these times like I have been in the presence of God.
Silence is beautiful because it allows my soul to go deep. Because so much of my life is lived in the normal and routine range, there is not much depth. Many conversations and exchanges of my day are transactional. It is like paying the bills. It is necessary, but not noteworthy. Our souls long to be touched in deep places. There the Spirit of God enlivens us. There beauty is linked to meaning and our lives are fed by living waters of the Spirit.
Silence is beautiful because it stretches me in expansive ways. My soul expands to touch those who normally are beyond my frame of reference. Words can constrict; they focus. Silence expands our individual universe. It allows more light into our realm of life and action. The expansive soul entertains the “what if,” instead of insisting on the “no way.”
I don’t want to be void of words. I don’t want conversations to stop. Words are amazing human inventions. But give me some silence…Lord, give me silence to live the beautiful life.