When doing counseling sessions, I place a noise machine outside my office door to facilitate confidentiality. The “white noise” prevents anyone standing in the hall from hearing what is being said inside the office. Most people would not intentionally eavesdrop, but a passerby might accidentally hear our voices. The noise creates a barrier.
Our world is full of noise. Recently, I was in a state park far from the sounds of traffic and industry. As I got out of my car and closed the door I was immediately struck by the silence around me. The sound of my car door closing seemed swallowed up in the quiet air. The slightest breeze passing through the trees sounded loud. The songs of far away birds could easily be perceived. A sense of the sacred awakened my mind and my soul. I knew that God was speaking through his creation.
The psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” It can be hard to be still. It can be hard to find silence. The “white noise” and activities of this busy world can create a barrier between us and God. As we walk throughout our day we can miss God’s voice amidst all the distractions. Sometimes it’s difficult to listen to each other, much less God. Silence may even feel uncomfortable and awkward because people become so accustomed to all the noise. When that happens, we tend to avoid silence and seek comfort in the familiar noise. We avoid the stillness. We forget how to communicate with God. Even when we do pray we may talk more to God than listen as we try to fill the “awkward silence” with words.
Some people are better at silent contemplation than others, but we all need it. We all need to “shush” the world around us so we can focus on the whispers of God. God does not always speak with rolling thunder. One of the things I love about the Mass is that it includes periods of silent contemplation. I like when the priest takes an extra long time sitting in silence after Holy Eucharist and people begin to squirm in their seats. They want Mass to be over so they can get on with the noise of their day. It’s never more than a minute or two, but it can seem like longer when we are chomping at the bit to return to the “comfort” of the world’s noise and activity. It shows how even holy Mass can become just another thing to check off of a list of busy activities. We have so little silence these days.
Sometimes, we think we’re not worshiping God unless we’re making noise or being animated. There is a time and a place for such worship and praise, but we need not think we are worshipping less when we are still and quiet. We are told to make a joyful noise, and we are told to be still. Both forms of worship have merit. I like that the Mass includes opportunity for everyone to share in the outward praise and inward contemplation.
This Summer I was struck by the vision of three and a half million Catholics, most of them youths, quietly worshiping on the beach in Rio during Eucharistic adoration with Pope Francis. They were silently reverent for quite a long time. It was a rare sight to see that many people being still and knowing God together. World Youth Day was a blend of jubilant celebration and quiet contemplation. It was inspiring to see that spiritual balance, especially in youths.
We need to find silence and stillness in daily life. It is part of being spiritually healthy. It is also physically and mentally beneficial. We must find ways to turn off the “white noise machine” of life and hear the still, small voice of God. There is no shortage of competition for our attention.