What do we mean by silence? Is it an escape from modern life – traffic, kids or insessant demands? Is it the choice of lifestyle for those called to contemplation? Is it perhaps that terrible state in which all our worst fears come out to taunt us? Is it a Rule called “shhh!”? Or simply the “absence of noise”?
Partly. Actually, not really. The most appropriate understanding of the term, for me, refers to an awareness and inner discipline, a backdrop against which all spirituality is allowed to take place.
It is not necessarily a protracted period of low decibels, it is not necessarily vacuous. It is not a place of dread, but of faith; not a vocation, but a practice; not an escape, but a place to be entered into; not a nirvana without desire, but all about Yearning; certainly not a legislated law, for it is suffused with Grace; and not merely defined in negative – it is not an Absence, but the ultimate, in fact, in Presence.
And Space? Well I’m sure you are seeing that space and silence are closely related. Silence exists in the realm of sound and language; space in the realm of the Earth, our Habitat, and how we order our immediate environment. Silence has to do with waves and space with matter, if you like. And Light, which is both wave and matter – well that’s another tangent for another time.
Everyone knows what it means to “give some space”. It has to do with courtesy, respect, and ultimately love. It has its phobias – claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces, and agoraphobia of open spaces.
It might be helpful to ask, what is noise? What can we identify as militating against the practices of the spirit? Here are a few ideas, a few “sins against Space and Silence”:
Verbosity – saying it in 200 words when 20 would do. Saying it at all when silence would do. More words, and less communication. This is often brought about by the lack of trust in or confusion about what is being said, so it is over emphasized. Or the lack of the ability to say “I don’t know.” Or, simply, the fear of silence.
Cliché – the regurgitation of someone’s tired idea, or a tired interpretation of anything new. An indication of the fear of finding ones own meaning, of forging ones own vocabulary.
Clutter and Consumerism – The accumulation of stuff made by some corporation dedicated to profit, with no authentic feeling for the product or artifact at all, in order to fill some fear of being without.
Machismo – The forcing of the self onto the world, to make up for the fact that one does not really believe in ones own worth; hiding behind a wall of sound, to escape the responsibility of being alive.
Unless we develop and cultivate a feeling for space and silence, we will not become worshippers. The Creator inhabits not temples of stone, but the praise of people, the worship of those who believe and belong to him-her. In fact, even inert rock worships.
Is it enough to say, “I am quoting from the BIBLE, this is worship. This hymn is from the HYMNBOOK, of course its worship. We’re in a church, aren’t we? Can’t you see that this is a religious activity, you querulous infidel?”
Well, yes, I can see a religious activity; it’s just that God seems somewhat absent from it, all the religous noise has made it impossible to hear anything of value.
When I listen to the story, the pain or the joy, of another, I create space. When I hold my response, when I am patient, so as to give them time to formulate their thoughts, their questions, I create space. When I listen to the birds, the wind, when I watch the ripples in the grass, I create space. When I allow myself or another to question, verbally or otherwise, without rushing in with a solution, I create space.
When I lay a table with a vase of freshly picked flowers, I create an environment for community. When I allow an instrument to reverberate, to let it interact with its environment, when I don’t impose a response on one hearing my songs, when I let words breathe, and my ego steps back, when I am lost in the wonder of a child’s imagination, when I take a path less worn, honor my curiosity, when I listen, look, or savor, a space emerges which begins to give way to a worthy worship.