We are not comfortable with silence. It’s the first thing to go when we have a to-do list, the easiest practice to neglect. There is the fear that if we don’t hear anything, it’s because we’re not listening. It’s our fault. How often have we heard it? “God’s always speaking; we’re the ones not listening.” Perhaps true in a sense, but only partially. It’s true that God is always speaking, but not necessarily in our language, in clear words, in obvious terms. The language could be one of silence, of the earth, an unexpected conversation or moving work of art. Dare we call anything the “word” of God? I hesitate. More like an echo, a reverberation through the world, picked up in the awareness of those who are listening. Not listening for the clarity of words, but the subtle circumstances of seasons and the rhythmic flow of days. I for one do not need more blatant words; I need the ordinariness of life to tell me of God. It’s a difficult adjustment, is it not? When we’ve been conditioned to believe God is heard in only a few places, in very specific ways, and all the rest is not to be trusted. What happens then, if we begin to lose the places and ways in which we were told to hear God? We are stranded, lost, floundering, unsure of how to start over, or if we even can. The box containing God’s voice is blown to bits, and like a bird flown free from a cage it flies where it will, yet we don’t know where or how to find it. We were never told it could be out there. It’s supposed to be in here.
It’s hard to learn a new language. I’ve never mastered another. Yet that’s exactly what’s required of us. In the learning, it’s mostly silence, for we don’t yet understand the new ways in which the voice manifests in us and in the world. That voice we once recognized no longer speaks from the structures in which we learned it. It’s not that God did not speak within and from those structures; it’s that one day all goes quiet there. Maybe it’s us—we left, walked away, abandoned the building. Maybe it’s God—he wants us to step outside and hear him out there, elsewhere. Maybe it’s both.
In the interim, in the in-between, God’s gift is silence. Some of us are triggered by nearly all the language associated with our past spirituality. God’s gift is silence. Some of us are so burdened by a lifetime of words and language we cannot possibly understand or live up to. God’s gift is silence. Some of us have simply had enough; we’re done. God’s gift is silence. When the past, religion, expectation, pressure, guilt, shame, fear—or even our own families and friends and communities—are saying too much, God’s gift is silence.
To protect us, he does not let out even a whisper.
He will not extinguish a weak flame. He will not let us lose our light.