Friday, December 3, 2010

Silence sought, and found!

In an article titled “These days, silence is truly golden (ie. rare and expensive)” (Globe and Mail, 27 November 2010), columnist Katrina Onstad notes:

“This Remembrance Day, the Royal British Legion released a charity single with Thom Yorke from Radiohead, though he didn’t contribute any music. The song cost $1.29 in Canada on iTunes and is called Two Minutes of Silence, which is exactly what it is. The anti-song song landed in Britain’s Top 20. ... This is what it’s come to: Silence is a novelty, and a product.”

Returning as I was from co-leading an 8 day silent retreat (see, I was struck by both the accuracy and the irony of her observations. I guess it’s no surprise that a culture that can stick an ad on a banana can also commercialize a psychic space that is universally present but rendered scarce and precious by a world of unrelenting sound and fury.

Onstad goes on to point out that “the English word ‘noise’ comes from the Latin ‘nausea’, as in disgust” or, more accurately, sea-sickness (from the Greek root naus meaning “ship”). Indeed, noise is a sickness that penetrates into the soul. My experience has been that the cacophony of the external world is often matched by the riotousness of my inner self. By stepping across a sonic threshold into silence we may leave external noise behind only to be met by the deafening roar of our own inner voice, “chattering like a tree full of monkeys, swinging from branch to branch” as it was once described to me. Silence does not immediately quell this noise within; au contraire, the contrast makes our inner turmoil all the more apparent.

Thus is set the challenge: to invite Silence to penetrate and permeate our Being, to allow our selves to be absorbed into quiet, to abandon our personality and be moved into something much deeper than our own noisy world. It happened for me in the chapel at Naramata Centre during Vigils, shortly after 3:00 AM, on the 7th day of retreat. We were observing the old monastic Hours (as interpreted by Macrina Wiederkehr in her book Seven Sacred Pauses [Notre Dame, Ind: Sorin Books, 2008]) when, deep in contemplation, I gently became aware of a thin fissure of indigo in the floor of my consciousness, an abyss of silence which beckoned me down (or did it reach up to envelop me?), unprotesting, into a truly primordial stillness. The memory of that moment (that minute? that hour?) carries me even now and is indelibly stamped, in dark ink, upon the reaches of my soul.

Though quietness has been driven almost to extinction in the hurly burly of the post-modern world, Silence, like Grace, remains abundant and free. Though hidden and even commodified in a busy age, we have only to avail ourselves of the opportunity to engage it and Silence will come to us, full and deep, to dwell as a Presence within and among us.


  1. Thank you Murray for the depth of your sharing and the beautiful articulation of our need for the "sound of silence". Your night experience connected me to a verse in Lamentations that has crossed my heart of late...
    "Get up and pray for help all through the night. Pour out your feelings to God, as you would pour water out of a jug. Lamentations 2: 19...

    thank you for sharing the pouring of water,

  2. "Silence, like Grace, remains abundant and free." Nicely put, Murray. And in the experience of silence, and frequently in solitude, comes refreshment and a connection with both the Creator and Creation. That's our experience. Duncan.

  3. Silence is hard, isn't it? *Really* hard. I regularly take time to sit quietly with my thoughts - but my thoughts are seldom, if ever, quiet. "Chattering monkeys", you say. So true. I feel fortunate if I'm able to find silence - true silence - for 7 seconds at a time. This "abyss of silence" seems so unattainable...