Sound of Silence

Today is the Feast of St. Benedict (480-543), a great saint in the history of the Church, Father of Western Monasticism, whose “Rule” is still used the world over today.

Walk into any Benedictine Monastery, and chances are you’ll hear… a lot of silence. Monks eating in silence. Monks walking through the hall in silence. Monks working in silence. Monks praying in silence. In a Benedictine Monastery, the “sound of silence” abounds.

Image of St. Benedict from Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that the phrase “sound of silence” is biblical? In 1 Kings chapter 19, the famous passage about how God manifested himself to Elijah and “there was a still, small voice”, the original Hebrew actually says, “there was a sound of silence”. Perhaps the translators never render it so literally because it seems so paradoxical. Yet I think it is fair to say that we have all “heard” this “sound of silence” before, paradoxical as it may be: in times when we have been alone with the Lord, maybe on retreat (maybe at a Benedictine monastery!); at those memorable, prayerful liturgies that we have attended; even in the midst of great exterior turmoil, when we have experienced greater interior peace.

We all need this “sound” in our daily lives, even if we are not Benedictine monks. We all need to hear God. We all need to hear our own thoughts. Maybe sitting and reading instead of watching television, or driving without listening to the radio, can lead to our feeling a bit restless at first. But with some practice, we will get used to it and come even to enjoy it.

Above all, we need times of silence in our prayer. Or else we risk treating God like he’s nothing more than a “spray” – a little spritz while we tell him our needs and then he sort of dissipates as we continue on with our life. In silence, on the contrary, we really learn to “practice the presence of God” – to be in his presence, to learn how to sense his nearness, to learn to listen to the ways that he is speaking to us through the movements of our heart. Yes, we need to speak to God also, and we all have many intentions. But we also need to be silent before him as well, and let him possibly get a word in edgewise!

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