By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 15, 2021
I usually wake up before sunrise to savor the gentle silence that blankets the world until a symphony opens at 6:30 with the bright notes of a robin. Throughout the day, various voices chime in, until dusk when the feathery singers retire for the night.
The sweet sounds of nature are so lovely—the chattering of squirrels, the clucking of the chickens next door, the rumble of bumble bees. But we all face challenges when it comes to noises associated with civilization.
There are chain saws screaming, as trees are felled, plus the growling of machinery as houses are renovated. Add to this the shrieks of leaf blowers, which seem to be proof of the devil’s existence. Yes, these infernal contraptions get the job done more quickly than the humble broom, but at what cost to peace of heart?
Not surprisingly, in Dante’s “Inferno,” hell lacks even a moment of silence. Instead, there’s a continual stream of shrieking and curses from the damned. Hell also is filled with “unfamiliar tongues, horrendous accents, words of suffering, cries of rage.”
I traveled out of state Easter weekend, which necessitated a visit to the Atlanta airport. As I headed down to the plane train, the robotic voices warned me to watch my step getting off the escalator and reminded me to wear a mask.
Since the voices are on a constant loop, there’s no chance one will experience a moment of peace. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the racket at the airport doesn’t provide a preview of hell.
We don’t hear much about the satanic quality of noise, but Scripture emphasizes the sacred element in silence. When Jesus needed respite from the crowds, he escaped to the desert or the mountain. He said that when we pray, we should go into a room and shut the door.
Too often conversations may add to the cacophony of our lives. It is delightful to talk with friends, but non-stop prattling can produce chaos and consternation.
St. Teresa of Avila said, “A perfect mortification is to avoid speaking without having to, for that is a great fault in a Christian soul. We must fear, we must avoid useless conversations because of the sins we commit in them and the time we waste in them.”
St. Bernard said: “Silence and the absence of noise…force the soul to think of God and of eternal goods.” The longing for silence explains why so many saints fled to the mountains, caves and deserts.
Sometimes we hear a stream of conversation in our own heads. This is one reason we may fear silence, because we’re suddenly stuck entirely with ourselves—and who knows what memory, fear or concern will pop up?
We can calm our minds by reading a passage from Scripture or praying the rosary. For me, heading to the adoration chapel brings comfort. In the delicious silence we’re left with Jesus’ words: “Peace be with you.”
We can’t all live in a monastery with hours of tranquility. Many people have babies, who are delightfully noisy with their chirps and coos. Toddlers like to ask endless questions, and these sounds are nectar to the soul.
Busy parents may find their only moments of silence when they’re showering—and even then, a toddler could be knocking at the door.
We can give ourselves the gift of tranquility by turning off our cell phones, so we get a respite from tweets and rings. We can take a walk without plugging into podcasts. We can make sure the television or radio isn’t babbling constantly.
We don’t know what heaven is like, but I would venture a guess that chain saws, leaf blowers and recorded voices will be blissfully absent. I imagine there will be a gentle robin’s song and the stirring of the wind through trees.
Mother Teresa said, “In the silence of the heart, God speaks.” Let’s pray we don’t drown God out with the technology of today’s world.
Artwork is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef. Her email address is email@example.com.