There’s something to be said for silence. In the absence of vocalizations or other sounds, one can focus more intently in his or her surroundings. At first, it may seem uncomfortable, especially if one is usually talkative and used to a noisy environment. At the same time, one might have difficulty focusing his or her thoughts in silence, suddenly having to contend with an onslaught of mental distractions. Especially in today’s society, one is constantly bombarded with external messages, symbols, and other stimuli in a magnitude never encountered previously. In one way or another, we have become numb.
We now find ourselves nearly halfway through Advent, a period of reflection, meditation, and waiting in anticipation of the solemn celebration of the nativity of our Lord. While the rest of the culture may be focused on shopping for gifts and decorating for the holidays, the faithful are called to contemplate the gift of Love made incarnate in a most humble setting over two thousand years ago. Throughout the liturgical year, but especially during this time of Advent, I find that removing myself from the demands of the world and replacing them with the stillness of Bethlehem is not only refreshing, but also an effective catalyst for drawing more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
How can silence help us dwell in this mystery? For one, sacred Scripture contains numerous accounts of how effective silence is for drawing one nearer to God and neighbor. Actually, one of my favorite biblical passages illustrates the friends of the greatly afflicted Job sharing in his miseries through their silent presence: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:11-13). God is not just with us, however, in moments of suffering or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, moments of majestic power and glory. God’s love continuously invites us to draw near to Him in our daily lives as well. Remember that the prophet Elijah experienced God in the sound of a gentle breeze blowing, not in the preceding bursts of wind, earthquake, or fire (1 Kings 19:11-13).
While silence can be beneficial to one’s spiritual life, it itself is not the end of contemplation or meditation. Rather, the focus remains, as it is for all prayer, communication with God. Silence, then, is a medium for encountering God, just as music or the spoken word is employed in liturgy. There are times when words are insufficient or music fails to strike the right chords. In these cases, a silent presence can be the most appropriate expression of closeness, such as in hospice, a cemetery, nursery, hospital, or any other place where the ministry of presence is desired. Similarly, as I prepare myself for a Holy Hour of silent adoration before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, I remind myself of the importance of placing myself before God’s presence. Sometimes, a tender gaze of love can be a beautiful prayer in itself.
As we continue to wait and reflect during the beginning of the new liturgical year for Christmas, let us pray to be able to free our minds from the things of this world that may distract us from seeking our “heavenly peace,” that is, union with God, the Word Incarnate, Emmanuel. For it was indeed a silent night, as the carol goes, during which our Savior came into this world and the shepherds and magi adored him. The wonder and awe of the miracle had passed over the scholars and authority figures and was instead “given to the childlike” to experience and behold for themselves (Matthew 11:25). In silence, our joy is not diminished, nor is our love any less potent, but through it we can continue to focus our attention and energy towards adoring the King of Kings and Lord of Lords: Jesus Christ, true God and true man.