The Tone of Silence

“The Power of Silence” by Robert Cardinal Sarah

For the first third of this Month of October, I decided to take a little break from blogging.  These are the times I take to go out with life in front of me, and try to do the duties that pertain to my state of life.  I feel that sometimes far more is done in person than in front of the screen, and the things we care about and write about meet the reality on the street.  The matters of the mind meet the ways of the heart.  Besides, the weather in October tends to be so nice, why stay inside?

It’s virtually a truism that one of the biggest problems with our age is its noise.  Noise, not sound, is the opposite of silence.  Sound is neutral; it can be a song of praise, loving words between friends and spouses, the fruit of a creative musician. This type of sound is a gift, given and received. Noise, however, is not neutral.  It is a form of violence, it beats upon the mind and heart by way of the ears. It is an attempt on the part of the world to force entry into the soul’s sanctuary. It is invasive by nature.

Cardinal Robert Sarah’s now famous book from 2017, “The Power of Silence”, investigated in depth the theme of Silence, and its power.  We should distinguish holy silence from unholy silence.  Unholy silence is what is practiced by those who would rather not confront evil, or who consent to evil.  Holy silence is what practiced by those who possess the gift of interior peace, and know how to direct their actions in such way as to inspire, reconcile, and edify.  Those who have the gift of holy silence are very frequently far from morose or grouchy; on the contrary, it is because they are still within, and in communion with God and themselves, that they can pour out something of God’s uncreated gladness on the world around them.

I think it’s good for everyone to take times of silence and rest in order to “recollect” oneself, to use the older term.  That is, to literally pick up the scattered parts of one’s self, attention and energy, in order to refocus on what really matters.  This is why retreats, days off, rest and recreation are not meant to be an optional feature of life: they are meant to make life worth living.

One of my criticisms of the blogosphere, as it is currently known, is that writers feel constantly pushed to create content.  They thus publish a perhaps an inordinate amount of verbage regarding various subjects about which, quite honestly, most of them probably shouldn’t say anything.  This is especially true in regard to the personal and political: when one takes in too much noise, the noise takes them in.  They become part of the larger cacophony.  I really respect musicians and writers when they say they had to take time to be away to collect their thoughts.  It shows they are tapping into their humanity and hopefully into their relationship with God, instead of simply reacting to what other people are constantly saying.  So much of what passes for journalism today is simply reacting to stimuli.  No wonder people are put on edge by cable news and pop-up alerts.

When I was a child, I once visited a home bound woman in the company of my Mom and one of her childhood friends whom I always called my Aunt.  The woman turned out to be a rather prolific poet, who made rhymes and stories in her spare time, when she wasn’t raising her family.  In her later years, when she was alone, she was particularly productive.  She taught me a poem that she only told me once, but I remembered it for the rest of my life, and I can still repeat it at will:

“The tone of your voice has power great,

persuasive and soft, patiently trying to create.

Is the tone of your voice easy to hear?

As clear as a bell, as soft as a tear?

Always remember, the tone of your voice

is very important when making a choice.

Remember this each day of your life,

it makes the difference between peace and strife.”

I have sympathy for people who churn out articles daily to make a living. That isn’t an easy job; to create analyses, to investigate, to report accurately the goings on, and to help readers to understand complex circumstances.  Yet that is precisely what does not seem to be happening, and most people seem incapable of knowing what is, for instance, technically an opinion piece, or what may be reported as fact. What is lost in the turmoil is an attitude of listening, and comprehension.  This is probably the reason the infamous interview with Canadian Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson so quickly became a meme (the original interview has 12 million views as of today), because Dr. Peterson speaks very clearly and succinctly, and the reporter makes a fool of herself, because she simply cannot bring her mind to understand the speaker, and his point of view.  Unfortunately, this problem is growing, and we recently saw the spectacle of paid protesters ranting and raving on Capitol Hill and in front of the United States Supreme Court.  There have always been protesters, which is the right of all free people, but what bothers me here is that wealthy people and organizations are paying people to incentivize irrationality.  Irrationality is the fruit of noise.  It comes when the noise has so fully permeated the intellect that one can no longer calmly reason.  Hatred is also the fruit of noise, but it is when noise infects the heart, turning it from its true end of loving, toward lesser objects that inevitably can’t satisfy its infinite longing.  The still heart is a happy heart.  The noisy heart is restless.

The tone, so to speak, of silence, is that of melodious music.  The tone of noise is chaos and dissonance.

If you’re the type of person who perhaps can’t read anything on the internet without getting to the “TL;DR” (too long, didn’t read) part, then perhaps you need to unplug.  I understand my blog and my essays may actually be too much to read for quite a few people.  I try to develop my thought, to challenge the reader, to promote dialogue.  But I pray I may never become an automaton of noise, someone who merely reacts to the world around me, but someone who helps create (and recreate) in the world.

So now, as we begin to ‘lean in’ to the height of autumn and its haunting beauty and delight, it’s important to remember that all fruitfulness requires its rest.  And so even nature begins to sleep.  The darkness lengthens, the light fades.  May God may grant us the grace to rest and to dream, that whether we keep vigil or sleep peacefully, we may awaken more human, more loving, more attentive…precisely because we have nourished the seed of silence.