Learning to Love Silence

“To every thing there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven—a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 2:1,7

If you are a serious Orthodox Christian, and I assume you are, then you must be also a devotee of monasticism. Our worship is replete with the style and format of the monastery, especially during the Great Lent, including the way we fast and pray. Nuns and monks teach us by example what’s good for our souls. One supreme lesson is based on silence. Like the prophet Amos who said, “The prudent keep silent,” (5:13), the monks honor stillness, and we heed their advice if we hope to advance towards God’s Kingdom. But it’s much harder for us, especially in today’s society. We have so many magnificent electronic devices to fill up our feeble lives.

Summer is the season for holidays and vacations. Wherever you go, alone or with your families—mountains, seashore or foreign countries—I urge you to leave at home everything that makes noise or causes distractions. You really don’t need cell phones, radios, CD gadgets, things you stick in your ear or hold in your hand that absorb your attention. You’re getting away from it all—then do just that. Liberate yourself from all impediments to serenity and silence. Recognize that you are or may be addicted to sounds and sights that clog the channels to the Lord and prevent you from going deep into your soul to discover the joy of being one with the Holy Trinity.

You say that you pray? Delightful! Are you able in your prayers to shut out the world outside and lose yourself in prayer? Do you enjoy meditation and take refuge in the Spirit of God? Contemplation means finding the temple of the Lord between the temples just above your ears. Go there and discover what happens to you when you make the attempt. Are there distractions that leap at you like rhesus monkeys in a cage at the zoo? How do you deal with it? Can you ignore them, or make them go away? Here’s what one church father tells us about detachment [cutting ourselves off from surrounding distractions]:

“Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment—therefore, we can know with certainty when we are in the proper state to speak about God, if during the hours when we do not speak we maintain a fervent remembrance of God in untroubled silence. St. Diadokos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge, 9,11.

The slick magazines with their alluring photos that promise to bring you glorious pleasures, exotic experiences, delicious foods, and unforgettable memories may or may not make it all possible. But even the most wonderful vacations eventually become a matter of memories, photographs, and motion films. You’ll return refreshed, but little else. And that won’t last for long. I’m suggesting that you can utilize the time away from home, work and routine to enhance your spiritual journey in a way that will transform your whole attitude to God, self and society.

It’s never simple to break old habits. You may decide it takes too much effort—yet you make physical efforts to exercise and diet to change your appearance. That won’t matter when you die. But the challenge of entering on the excursion to God’s Kingdom, finding the starting place within your very heart, will be of infinitely greater value to you, and worth all that it takes to make the effort. And it begins by recognizing that you may be a slave to your environment. If so, then you must with Christ’s help set yourself free. And it will all begin with silence, attention and determined effort.