I’m sure that many of us at some point have stood outside in the late evening of a winter snowfall and marvelled at the sound of silence. All the noises of the outside world are muffled.
There are varying degrees of silence—the hushed silence of the library, the silence surrounding a northern lake, and the prayerful silence of a church. Then there is absolute silence—the kind that we might experience at the audiologist’s. It’s certainly not a painful experience, but not a fun one either! Sitting in a soundproof room wearing headphones and straining to hear the first faint sound that is part of the hearing test. We listen so intently, uncertain of what that sound would be, or try so hard to hear the sound that we might miss the enjoyment of that silence. We concentrate on trying to break that silence and fill it in as quickly as possible.
Julian of Norwich, in her account of a remarkable series of visions called “Showings”, talks of putting God on like a garment. It is an appealing picture of comfort and safety. It’s like a baggy sweater or old, soft bathrobe. Who wouldn’t want to be wrapped in God, held securely and safely? It comes with a degree of silence and quiet.
But, in our recreational use of noise—fireworks, a marching band, children playing, or cheers at the hockey rink, we wrap this noise around us like a blanket—we surround ourselves with sound. We are insulating ourselves.
Sometimes we can be victims of sound, with elevator music, music in the malls, or the constant chatter of colleagues. Even when we seek a quiet place away from all this noise, we are still surrounded by sound. Nature is noisy, so we do not gain complete silence.
We often choose noise over silence. Too much quiet makes us uneasy and leaves us open and undefended. I once read that silence falls naturally over a social gathering every seven minutes. Every host knows this when an animated dinner party conversation comes to an abrupt halt and he or she feels the need to fill the silence. Good friends experience this silence too, but it is markedly different. They are content to sit in “companionable” silence and savour it.
Perhaps being with God is not so different from being with our best friend. In Psalm 62, the psalmist urges silence. There is no need for nervous chatter, for this is no ordinary silence: “For God alone I wait silently; my deliverance comes from him.” (Psalm 62:1)
So the silence of God is not the audiologist’s booth. It is living, active and filled with the Holy Spirit. The silence of God demands our surrender—stop talking and listen. When we let ourselves wait upon God in God’s silence we become receptive and open. The God upon whom we wait in silence is the God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. We need to pay attention. Let us take the time to wait for God in silence and let Him wrap His arms around us. Let us listen to the sounds of silence.