Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, recently authored a book entitled “The Power of Silence, Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” In this book, the cardinal remarks that human beings have so surrounded themselves with noise that they have become fearful of silence, both exterior and interior. Due to this, Cardinal Sarah states that human beings no longer encounter God, who is found in the silence.
Anyone reflecting upon the cardinal’s thought would have to concur with his assessment: we are a noisy society. We are surrounded by gadgets which constantly fill our space with voices and images. We have moved past the radio and television, to smart phones and various tablets. We constantly are watching the news or our favorite movies and TV shows, not to mention music videos and a plethora of YouTube.
When we are not using our gadgets for entertainment, we are probably using them for talking or texting. How often do we find ourselves texting while watching a movie, enjoying the ball game, or even during time spent with other people, family and friends, for barbecue or just plain old Sunday dinner?
With all this noise, it is good to recall the Prophet Elijah. In particular, ponder the event of Elijah’s life recounted in the 19th chapter of 1 Kings. Elijah spent 40 days and 40 nights traveling to a cave on Mount Horeb. While alone there, the word of the Lord spoke to him. Further, the word of the Lord led Elijah to the mouth of the cave were the Lord passed by, not in a thunderous wind, not in a mighty earthquake, nor in a blazing fire, but in the “whistling of the gentle air.” Elijah encountered God in the silence.
Being in the cave, prior to cell phones, Elijah was alone, allowing for exterior silence. Further, Elijah had cultivated interior silence. Prior to his going to Mount Horeb, Elijah had been distraught. The interior silence Elijah had cultivated allowed him to recognize God in the gentle wind, while not being distracted by the things that quickly catch our eyes, like a powerful wind, an earthquake or a blazing hot fire. Such a lesson is good for us to learn.
One spiritual author from the sixties had suggested we throw out our televisions; today he would counsel us to throw out our iPads! Before we start throwing away all our gadgets, perhaps we can learn to turn them off from time to time. While the gadgets are off, the time could be used to calm our minds and souls by reflecting on the greater things, such as Jesus’ great love for us.
Learning to turn off the gadgets from time to time will allow us to ignore them when in the presence of other people, fostering the bonds of love as we share the beauty and goodness of creation.
The noise which bombards us daily influences our thoughts and impacts our decisions. The noise so overwhelms us with information that we are left confused and bit distraught. Cultivating some silence will help us to avoid being distracted by such things that catch our senses. Too often these things, which entice the eyes, distract us from good relationships, while leading us away from God.
Recall the teaching of Jesus concerning how to pray. Jesus stated the following: “But when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret: and your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mt 5:6). The chamber is the heart and the senses are the door. All too often, our senses are consumed with the images and voices, the noise, from our gadgets. Yet, it is only in the silence of the inner room that we encounter God.
During these remaining weeks of summer, as we hustle about to accomplish all that we had planned to accomplish during these months, perhaps we could take a pause, slow down and sit in the silence. Doing so should lead to peace, while giving the strength we need to hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in such a noisy world.
Father Jason Rocks is currently in Rome at the Pontifical North American College for Advanced Studies.