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Speaking to the Soul: The surprise of silence

Speaking to the Soul: The surprise of silence

by Linda Ryan


It’s a very quiet morning. There’s some roadwork going on near the house and part of the roadwork involves removing two transformers and placing them elsewhere. So, for today, the power is off, and so are any instruments of sound like a radio or television. It’s not unexpected, but the feelings that are brought up by the unexpected silence I’m finding a rather interesting.

I can still hear cars going up and down the street right in front of my house, a little distant from where the actual work is going on, and now and then I hear someone yelling at someone else, probably instructions from the construction crew. I also hear someone hammering nails into wood, although I don’t know where it’s coming from. It doesn’t bother me at all. The cats are either sleeping or dozing, which is a good thing, since part of the silence is the lack of the air conditioner kicking in periodically. It might be a very long day. 

I’ve come to realize how my life is invaded by sound. I have the radio on all night to help block out some of the local noises, like someone’s distant radio with the subwoofers turned up to maximum, or the occasional cat discussion outside the window. Even my own boys are sometimes, either getting into trouble by knocking things off my desk for having a sibling rivalry that occasionally becomes very vocal. During the day I have either the radio or the television on, mostly for background noise, and it serves its purpose. It also reminds me of working in the office, when I couldn’t always block out sounds that I really didn’t want to hear but had no other option. 

I think about the hermits that used to go out in the desert as solitaries or in silent groups in order to increase their closeness to God. It was a well-respected profession at that time, but we seldom hear of people doing it today. There are retreat centers where people can go and do silent retreats, and, after a bit of what almost amounts to culture shock, it can be a very intense and very comforting situation. 

A college roommate and I tried an experiment where we decided to go for a whole week without speaking to anyone unless absolutely necessary. I remember one day after we had been at it for a day or two. We both noticed that sounds had a variety and clarity that we hadn’t really paid attention to before. It was rather strange but yet surprising insight that we became aware of how much we normally talked about absolutely nothing important, but just for the sake of having something to say and someone to respond to it.

I remember as a middle elementary school kid, taking my little white King James Bible over to the monument grounds on a high bluff over the river. I would go just over the brow of the hill underneath a big pine tree, and sit there, read Psalms, and just listen to the sound of the wind through the needles, and, occasionally, the sounds of waves on the beach. That was my time with God. I wonder why I lost the peace and serenity of doing that? 

We don’t seem to recognize the value of silence. We are afraid of it. Silence means that nothing is going on as far as we’re concerned. We have to have something to distract us from that dis-ease that comes to us when we notice that there is no sound around us. It’s odd, but it’s like we’re afraid of silence, afraid of what we might find in that silence, and afraid of an emptiness that suddenly surrounds us and makes us feel inadequate.

Silence allows a time for God to be heard, or felt, or experienced in some way. If we are aware of the silence and we cultivate it, we are allowing God free access, something we often ignore or are too busy to take the time to actually allow. 

Even in church there is seldom silence except during Holy Week and even then there’s little silence. In church the longest silence is usually one or two minutes between the sermon and the recitation of the Creed. People get uncomfortable during that minute or two. A short period of time of silence  makes some of them edgy. They shuffle or squirm in their seats, look at the next page in the bulletin, or are involved in some motion including whispering something to the person sitting next to them. Silence doesn’t always do what silence can do if allowed and if people could just sit back, breathe deeply and let the silence in.

I wonder what would happen if periodically I turned everything off — the radio, the television, the computer, the cell phone, all the mechanical devices that make noise of any kind, and just sat and looked at the leaves of the tree outside my living room window, or enjoyed the sight of one of the boys peering out the window and studying it very closely. I wonder what it would be like to do that regularly, no matter what I have to postpone doing for a little while as I just sit and savor the silence 

Maybe I’ve been too busy lately to let God in with silence. There’s that time after I go to bed, said my prayers and snuggled down, but I’m not asleep yet. I’m not saying anything but I’m still hearing sounds especially radio playing classical music which soothes me. I wonder is that enough silence?

Sounds like I need to investigate a new meditation practice in my everyday life. Maybe I need to cultivate silence, and let God talk to me instead of me holding the floor on conversation. It’s an intriguing thought. I wonder what insights I would get and maybe find out what God has planned for me to do. I’ve been wondering, but maybe I just haven’t let God have a chance to let me know about it.

Now’s my chance. How about you? When can you take some silent time and just let God get a word in edge wise?



Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.  She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.



Image: “My Tree” by Linda Ryan



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Rie Linton

Thank you, Linda. Wonderful piece.

Linda Ryan

Thanks, Rie. Hope all is going well for you.

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