The other night, my family was sitting on the porch, talking about whether or not we could live in a place where it was summer year round. “But,” my dad contested, “there’s something so peaceful about the world after a snow storm.” Despite it being August, my mind drifted to that scene:
Snow falls, encapsulating the earth in a blanket of the brightest white. All the woodland creatures seem to know that they are to remain huddled together a little bit longer this early morning, their footprints have yet to be imprinted upon the smooth sheet. The pines sag under the weight of their newly acquired cloak. The rising sun casts pastel streaks of violet, rose, and cornflower across the winter sky. The earth is still; and as I gaze upon it all, transfixed by nature’s little miracles, it is as if I can hear the sound of silence.
Living in a society filled with noise, winter mornings seem transcendental. Quiet moments are privileged moments, often few and far between. Yet because we are so accustomed to the cacophony of daily life, quiet moments can conversely feel awkward, long, uncomfortable, restless. Rather than embrace them, it is tempting to fill them – by looking at our phones, rambling on in a conversation, flooding our senses with our favorite music.
In the first reading, Elijah is on the mountain, seeking the Lord. But the Lord didn’t come in the ways Elijah (or we) would have expected: not in a strong wind, or an earthquake, or even a fire. The Lord did not come in a thunderous voice, nor did he appear in a striking, conspicuous way. I wondered what would have happened if Elijah had distracted himself from the silence, if he had chased after the noise. But Elijah was zealous for the Lord, his heart was tuned to the ways of Gods. He was not afraid of silence. And so, when the Lord comes in a gentle whisper, in a still, small voice, in the sound of silence — Elijah hears him.
Countless Saints have spoken of finding God in silence:
- 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. – St. Mother Teresa
- Silence does good to the soul. — St. Thérèse of Lisieux
- It is best to learn to silence the faculties and to cause them to be still, so that God may speak. — St. John of the Cross
- Silence is the beginning of purifying the soul. — St. Basil the Great
I know this to be true — that to draw close to God I need to intentionally dwell in silence. Yet I often avoid it. Left in silence, I am (ironically) left to dwell with the noise of my heart – the stormy seas which I try to calm with the ways of the world, rather than the voice of God.
Sometimes, I am like Peter, in today’s Gospel. Amidst the storm I catch sight of Jesus, walking on the sea. Overcome by his presence, I hear his voice, call upon his Name, and step out in faith. And then, just like Peter, I become distracted – I look around me and see all the things that cause me to question God, I become engrossed by my anxieties, fears, failures, the lack of perfection in my life, the unknown. And I begin to sink.
It is then that I, too, remember to cry out, “Lord, save me!” And he does. He always does. Jesus tightens His grip on my hand – for he had never abandoned me – and says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid. O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Silence is an anchor for our soul, it helps our restless hearts to settle and rest in God, the keeper of our hearts. When we learn to rest in His presence, we will begin to hear his still, small, gentle voice — the voice that will calm the stormiest seas. No longer will we fear the sound of silence.
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One last thought — most of us are not called to a life of silent contemplation. And it is true, that practically speaking, it is difficult to find many moments of uninterrupted quiet — especially if you are a parent! Still, we can challenge ourselves to take advantage of the little pockets of time. Here are some suggestions:
- Rather than scrolling through our phones when we wake up, take a minute to ask for God’s blessing and set an intention for the day.
- Before going to bed, take a few minutes to examine your day — what could you have done better, where did you experience God, what are you grateful for?
- Pray in the shower or while brushing your teeth — this one always makes people laugh, especially teens. But I can’t tell you the number of times teens have come back and told me that praying in the shower or while brushing their teeth — things they do every day, without thinking — has helped them to cultivate a daily prayer life.
- Drive to work without music/podcast/etc. . . or at least do so intentionally for a minute or two.
- Turn monotonous chores — laundry, dishes, yard work — into moments of meditation.
Remember, you don’t need perfect, curated time to talk with God. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “know that even when you are in the kitchen, our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans.”
This piece was originally written for Bishop Guertin High School’s Reflections.