The Merits of Silence

Sometimes I think God wants us to remember his admonishment, “Be still and know that I am God.” Sometimes, I think he might want to be more emphatic and tell us simply to, “Be quiet” or even, “Shut up! I don’t need to hear all of your regurgitated verbal platitudes, your obsessive jargon. Just give it a rest for a while.” And then he would offer reassurance, “Now you will get it back in due time. But for a moment in your life, take a break! As it is, this is mere chatter.”

And I fear so much of our religious communication is mere chatter, “god talk” with value similar to that of “car talk” or “sports talk” or “talking politics”—providing social grease to reassure and confirm our social connections. We do need silence from time to time and some go for years before the Silence has done its work and “the letter of the law” has become “Spirit.”

St. John of the Cross said, “Silence is God’s first language.” Rumi pithily noted, “Silence is an ocean. Speech is a river” and, “Silence is the language of God, all else is a poor translation.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a marvelous poem about “The Habit of Perfection” part of which I will now share. Note that he emphasized that only in silence, “Where all surrenders come” will we find “eloquence.” It is Silence that gives meanings to our words and especially The Word.

Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear,
Pipe to me pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From where all surrenders come
Which alone makes you eloquent


6 thoughts on “The Merits of Silence

  1. jjmurph

    You have to balance out speaking and listening. If all you do is listen, you won’t here anything. If all you do is speak, you won’t hear anything. You have to balance out waiting on the Lord and prayer. What the church definitely doesn’t need is everyone becoming silent. But you’re right. Some of the best times in the presence are simply just soaking in the presence. Just sitting there. Not saying anything or doing anything but letting God speak and move.


  2. Sandeep Bhalla

    Very true. Speech is part of silence not the other way around. Speech often becomes ggiberish due to our individual meaning attached to various words but silence is not only eternal but unambigous. However the real silence is silence of mind, which seeks no anchor of thought to cling, to exist.



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