There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:7
For many people, silence can be an unnerving thing. Something we crave but something we can equally be fearful of. From the senseless chatter of social gatherings to students who can’t help but talk in classes, many humans hide their nervousness and awkwardness by making noise. We’d rather talk about the weather, tell a joke, say anything than be comfortable sitting and being in silence.
Listen to this passage from a book by a Norwegian explorer and publisher called “Silence; in an age of noise”. The author Erling Kagge writes of the struggle in our culture of being comfortable with silence;
Contrary to what I believed when I was younger, the basic state of our brain is one of chaos. The reason that it took me so long to understand this is that my days often pass on autopilot. I sleep, wake up, check my phone, shower, eat and head off to work. Here I respond to messages, attend meetings, read and converse. My own and others’ expectations of how my day is supposed to unfold guide my hours until the hour when I lie down again to sleep.
Whenever I fall out of this rut and sit quietly in a room alone, without any goal, without anything to look at, the chaos surfaces. It is difficult only to sit there. Multiple temptations surface. My brain, which functions so well on autopilot, is no longer helpful. It’s not easy being idle when nothing else is going on, it is quiet, and you are alone. I often choose to do anything else rather than to fill the silence with myself. I have gradually come to realise that the source of many of my problems lies precisely in this struggle…
The philosopher and boredom theorist Blaise Pascal promoted this type of exploration as early as the 1600s; ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ So a discomfort with being alone, holding one’s tongue and simply being did not start with the advent of TV in the 1950s, with the coming of the internet in the 90s or with smartphones; it has always been a problem, and Pascal was probably the first to write about this feeling. The constant impulse to turn to something else – TV series, gadgets, games – grows out of a need with which we are born, rather than being a cause. This disquiet that we feel has been with us since the beginning; it is our natural state.
The present hurts wrote Pascal. And our response is to look ceaselessly for fresh purposes that draw our attention outwards, away from ourselves. Of course, such opportunities for interruption have increased dramatically over the last century, a trend that seems set to continue. We live in the age of noise; silence is almost extinct. (Kagge: 36-37)
Why are we afraid of silence, and for some of us unable at times to be silent?
Silence, solitude, being alone by ourselves is where the deep stuff happens. Silence is where we are forced to be comfortable in our own skin. It is the space we enter in which we learn about ourselves. Silence is the space where God can be heard and where God hears us.
Jesus took time away from the crowds, the pressing needs of humanity, to be alone, to spend time in silence, to hear God and hear God speak to him. One of the many passages in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus being comfortable with silence is in chapter one verse thirty-five; In the morning, long before daylight, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
All through Mark’s gospel, Jesus made space for solitude and silence. So let’s spend some time as Jesus did in prayer, being comfortable in silence before we begin the busyness of our day…
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
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