Matthew Kelly, one of my favorite Catholic speakers, recommends ten minutes a day in what he calls the classroom of silence. It’s a good idea, and not a new one--quiet meditation, silence with God, has been a staple of the discipline of faith since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, after all, walked with God in the cool of the evening, at least before the fall. Comfortable silence is a fundamental of any good relationship.
You’d think my problem would be finding the ten minutes, but it’s not. It’s finding the silence. It’s almost become a joke that if I sit down to meditate,horns will start blaring, alarms will sound and even my geographically distant and grown children will find a way to interrupt me. If I go a few minutes early for Mass, or stay after, my concentration is hampered by others coming in and chatting with each other. My last visit to Adoration at a local parish was jarred by the rock band practicing in the adjacent church (silent meditation is somewhat marred by an incessant, whoompata-whoompata beat that you can feel through the kneelers). Even my car isn’t a sanctuary any longer--my hands-free phone invariably decides to ring somewhere in the middle of the third decade of the rosary.
I am almost ready to buy some noise-canceling headphones for purposes of meditation. As it is I have taken to rising early in the morning and heading to our local jogging track to walk and pray in a place where I am completely alone, at a time when the world isn’t yet up and about its business.
It’s a sign of the times. Our culture just isn’t still for a moment, either physically or acoustically, and I think we’ve lost the sensitivity that allows us to be enveloped in silence once in a while.
Don’t believe me? Try just sitting with a friend, saying nothing, and time exactly how long it takes for one of you to fill the silence with idle chat. Uneasy silence is a favorite trick of investigators,and maybe of the Devil as well. Faced with the opportunity to talk, especially when a question is left hanging, most of us will rush to speak, even when it’s against our best interests.
There is hardly a second of life that isn’t filled with sound and activity, like some sort of frenetic amusement park ride. Get put on hold and get treated to some ear-splitting version of some mundane song. Wait in the airport and you’ll get minute by minute updates on absolutely irrelevant “news” delivered over omnipresent TV screens you can’t escape. Sit in the doctor’s waiting room and be regaled with the local health channel. There’s canned music in the elevators, non-stop talk on the radio, and there are incessant meetings at work.
How is God supposed to get a word in edgewise?
One of the great blessings of growing up much the youngest (by 13 years) in a very working class family with few neighbor kids around was that there wasn’t much in the way of diversion. Both my parents worked, and I was the prototype latchkey kid. TV in those days was pretty limited, three channels, only two of which we got on our ancient black and white set. A great deal of my after-school and before-parents time was spent in uninterrupted solitude and silence. It was sometimes boring, but it taught me the rhythms of stopping, of listening, of thinking, of solitude.
It was also a peculiar blessing of my particular parents. My dad, especially, was a man of very few words, comfortable with companionable silence. Just sharing space, and breathing the same air, he sitting in his big easy chair and I on the couch, was an entry into his love. It wasn’t articulated very often, but it was palpable, real, and comforting.
Shortly before he died, my mother had to have surgery in another town and I came to stay with him while she recovered. I remember setting up my not-so-portable computer in the living room, my papers spread about, while he napped in his chair, or read the paper, or worked the jumble. Every now and again, he’d make a comment and we’d exchange a few words, sometimes a story, but mostly, we were just together. The man who had given me life was coming to the end of his and I was happy just to be there with him, sharing his time, sharing the life he had left. There was a lot of communication, but not many words. I doubt that a transcript of that week would take up more than a few pages. What I learned from him in that way over the years of my life, that which I am learning still, would fill many books.
So it is with God, I think. I need to push away all the activity and just take time to be in His presence, not distracted by all the noise around me, all the noise within me that seeks to get out and confuse me, distract me from God. I just need to sit on the couch in companionable silence and commune with my Father, and perhaps I’ll begin to learn what He has to teach.