Posted by Jeff Pauls on 5th Dec 2018


Have you thought about silence lately?

You may answer, “Yes,” because you just did. Do you like silence?

What exactly is silence?

Is it when there is absolutely no sound? This is the kind of silence one would experience in space.

Is it when I’m listening? I’ve chosen not to speak or think of other things so that I can concentrate on what you’re saying.

Is it when you’re in the car with someone, and words aren’t being said? Music can be playing, we hear the sound of the traffic and the car, but no one is making a sound. 

This morning I was reading about prayer, and the author talked about silence for a couple paragraphs. As you can see, it got me thinking. One thought that occurred to me was to compare silence to negative space in a drawing or painting.

As you may know, negative space in art is often referred to as the space in the painting or drawing that is not the subject. It might also be the parts of the piece that are more subtle and do not immediately attract the eye. Without it, the piece of artwork isn’t really possible. Although, if you look at pieces fitting into a category known as monochrome painting, by such artists as Milton Resnick or Ad Reinhardt, this explanation doesn’t seem to hold up. Although in reality, the negative space is everything else and the painting itself can be the subject.

Regardless, negative space, is in some ways a frame that helps us focus on the subject. In the same way, silence, although perfectly valid in its own right, can serve to clarify, or sharpen other sounds, our thoughts, or even our lives.

Friedrich von Hügel said, “Man is what he does in silence.” Fr. Lawrence Freeman has called silence “the universal language.”

Who hasn’t, after being in an extremely noisy environment for an extended period, welcomed the relative  silence that comes when you leave that place and step out of the room or back out into the open? That same kind of relief can become a regular part of our lives if we begin to be intentional about silence.

Being intentional about silence means setting aside time in your day to be quiet. This exercise takes practice. When I first started trying this discipline, I found that my mind was very “loud.” My thoughts and feelings all seemed to demand my attention. It was so chaotic, that I had difficulty focusing on any one thought and it was almost worse than having some noise.

To counter this tendency, I began with short spans and did it while doing other things. For example, instead of having the radio on while driving, I would turn it off. As to my thoughts, I would then choose something specific to dwell on. One of the best thoughts I’ve found is being thankful.

If I don’t have a specific task at hand, I sit, preferably outside, and actually think about what I’m looking at. If there are trees, I look at them. I compare and contrast their colors and shapes, their distance from each other or me. As I see the trees, I might notice the hills on which they grow and note how far the ridge extends or if there are other hills that intersect with it. And then I notice clouds. The sky above the hills, carries the birds to and fro. And the birds land in the trees. And so it goes.

My heart rate slows and stabilizes. My breathing is even and rhythmic. My mind feels good--not so full and cluttered. And there, I find God waiting.

It is not for nothing that God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10