silence

An Essay By Aisling // 11/3/2005

Right off, I have to say thank you to Paul, whose piece "Quiet Society" has been inspiring me ever since it was written, until my thoughts have materialized into this reflection . . . It might seem a contradiction to his observations, at first, but I think I’ve really found a fascinating, paradoxical connection, underneath it all.

We live in a world that fears silence.
And we fear silence because (though we don’t admit it to ourselves, or anyone else) we fear ourselves.
And I think we fear ourselves because we fear to see.
And we fear to see because we fear discomfort.
And we fear discomfort because we fear change.
And we fear change because we fear the unknown.
And we fear the unknown because fear pain.

So firstly—or perhaps ultimately—we’re afraid of silence, of stillness, of peace. Not the thing we’ve come to call “peace,” where you take a big, pretty tarp and carefully cover up anything disturbing. Real peace: where you look the disturbance right in the eye, and plunge into it, all the while having a quiet strength inside you because you know Someone is making all things new, all things good. We’re afraid to sit down, without a novel, or a magazine, or the radio or TV on. Just to sit and breathe, and think, and reflect, and pray. We’re afraid to be.
Because we’re afraid to know. We’re afraid to look into ourselves, our feelings, our lives; to think about our problems, to admit our failures, to weigh our decisions; even to look at our character and ideals, and consider what is driving us, and to where. We’re afraid to look.
Because we’re afraid of what we’ll find. We’re afraid that it won’t just be a “happily ever after and everything’s all right”. We’re afraid there’ll be problems, confrontations, discomfort. We’re afraid that the person we see will be weak, and ignoble, and somehow lost. We’re afraid to size it up, and admit it.
Because we’re afraid of what it’ll mean. We’re afraid of feeling bad, of feeling guilty and mistaken, wrong and wretched. We’re afraid of being shaken out of our comfort zone, our complacency, our masked contentment—where everything is familiar, and safe, and skillfully watered down. We’re afraid to take the tarp out of peace. We’re afraid to realize.
Because we’re afraid to move. We’re afraid to turn, to take a step, to jump. We’re afraid to lift our eyes higher than our brick walls. We’re afraid to open the doors we’ve kept securely locked. We’re afraid to dare to live and give and love; to commit ourselves, to say “yes” and have to mean it. We’re afraid of anything with seriousness, and gravity, and a cost. We’re afraid to change.
Because we’re afraid of what will happen next. We’re afraid of what we’ll see, where we’ll land, what we’ll find ourselves in. We’re afraid of what people will say, or think, or do. We’re afraid of how different things will be, how strange and unfamiliar. We’re afraid of anything new.
Because we’re afraid of getting hurt. We’re afraid of what we might have to endure; of challenges, and trials, and battles. We’re afraid of having to cope with people’s reactions, with the consequences of our decisions. We’re afraid of finding ourselves alone and lost and friendless. We’re afraid of pain and disappointment and confusion; of hatred, and prejudice, and opposition. We’re afraid of the cost.

In the end, then, we fear silence because we fear pain. But if that makes the ultimate question “why do we fear pain?” then the answer would be simple: “we are human”, and the whole thing would be solved. But it isn’t solved, and it’s the farthest thing from simple.
It might be human to fear pain, and oh! how easy it would be to use that as our perpetual excuse: I’m only human. But the tough thing is it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way because God doesn’t want it to work that way. He loves us, and real love is a challenge. It doesn’t say: “I love you just the way you are, don’t ever change.” It says: “I love you just the way you are, but I love you far too much to leave you that way” (Scott Hahn, "A Father Who Keeps His Promises"). Real love is only satisfied when its beloved has become one with itself. And God is never satisfied until we are one with Him, until we have become the dream that He had when He first created us and brought us to life.
Along with the awesome, all-embracing, eternal, intense love of God there comes a challenge. To live. Not just to exist, not just to go through the motions every day, say the right thing to the right person, and figure out how to make more money. To really live. And we—as Christians, who know God, who know His word, who have been blessed with eyes and ears that have seen and heard what prophets have longed for, what is greater than Solomon—we have the greatest trust of all. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:…48). It will go worse for those who knew better, and yet did not do better. We are called to rise up beyond this world—beyond its values, beyond its treasures, beyond its teachings, beyond its truths—to be a window through which God can shine; so that the world can see what real values are, and real treasures, and real teachings, and real Truth. So that they can see that the things of this world are a lot of hooey, in comparison, like a set of plastic imitation pearls.
Maybe the plastic ones are safer. You don’t have to worry about someone attacking you, and snatching them away. They didn’t cost you much, and you can always go back and get another set if these break, or peel, or just get old and boring. Fake things are usually safer, usually less painful. But . . . wouldn’t you rather have reality? Especially if you knew that, in the end, it would mean an unending life in a place too beautiful for humanity to comprehend? And unity with the Creator of the Universe, Who is head-over-heals in love with you and wants nothing more intensely than He wants your happiness?
It can be frightening. God Himself, incarnate in Jesus Christ, has told us that in the world we will have trouble; that if we follow Him we must carry a cross, and expect the world’s hatred, even brace ourselves for every imaginable trial and persecution. It can be very frightening. But when He tells us there’ll be trouble, He doesn’t just stop there—He says: but take courage; I have conquered the world.
Doesn’t that just send shivers all through you? This world has been CONQUERED. We don’t have to agonize over how it’ll end. He already knows. And it’s not going to be one of those the-hero-gets-killed-and-everyone-else-dies-of-a-broken-heart kind of endings. If we can only get beyond ourselves and realize that sort of a trust in Him, in His power over this world, in His awesome love for us, then even the worst pain this world can send us isn’t too much for us to bear. Because God has already died the worst death possible, and He still rose to life again. Even when evil threw at Him every last thing it had, it crumbled beneath His victorious might.
And we sit here in our crowded, empty, twenty-first-century lives, afraid to live because we’re afraid of getting hurt. If it wasn’t so serious, I’d laugh. We have to wake up and realize that the Gospel is either radical, or it is false (Pope John Paul II the Great). And if we aren’t living the radical Gospel of Christ, we’re doing something wrong. And, in the end, shouldn’t we be trying to do it as right as we can? And eventually we won’t just be able to tell ourselves that how we’re doing it is the right way for us. There is only one Supreme Right. And it leaves no room for tarps and locked doors. It still leaves room for fear; fear is a very real thing, and cannot be ignored. But it can’t end there.
Without cost we have received; without cost we are to give. And we cannot give while we are carefully closed up inside our impregnable fortresses of busyness, of denial, of shallow selfishness. We cannot give if we will not know ourselves, if we refuse to go beyond a vague awareness that if we do look it won’t be good. We have to begin to change ourselves before we can change the world. And time won’t wait for us to catch up.

Silence is a challenge.

Will you spend your life filling every moment with shallow words? covering over the mess with a tarp and going out of your way to steer clear of it? keeping your back carefully turned, and your mind carefully closed, to any sort of contemplation? exerting all your energy in holding off or running away from yourself?

Or are you willing to dare and be who you were created to be?

Comments

My view on silence in response to this essay

I found this essay very interesting at a time when silence is becoming a very important issue in my life. Our English teacher challenged us today, to spend as long as we can in silence, in order to see what it is about silence that we fear so much.
Personally I agree that we fear silence because we fear ourselves. To be completely stripped of all our barriers that we have created with words, to sit (or stand) in complete silence, complete nakedness, is to allow not only the universe to see us fully exposed as who we really are, but it is also to allow ourselves to see ourselves, possibly for the first time ever.
In the human mind, to be silent is to be truly oneself, and to be tryly oneself is to be truly alone. And it is that which we fear also. If you were to be looked in a soundproof room for any large amount of time, when the door is finally opened, would you leave behind the "people" or "beings" that your mind created? Because the mind will undoubtedley create company.
So I would just like to say that, for an essay wrote by a 16 year old, you have certainly spent alot of time reflecting on silence. And I thankyou because it is an essay that I will definately remember and look back on whenever I feel the need to look at silence.

From a half English/half Irish 17 year old living in New Zealand

Anonymous | Sun, 07/29/2007

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