I ran into a friend recently, another mom with lots of littles, at an indoor trampoline park. It was a sizzling summer day in Phoenix and we’d both reluctantly shelled out too much money for a few hours of much-needed activity for the kids.
The place was loud. As in, I need an Advil loud. We were delighted to connect and catch up, but we had to raise our voices into a near shout to hear each other over the thumping music.
My friend shared that last year had been her first with all of the children in school. Not quite there yet myself, I asked her wonderingly, “What did you do with yourself?” She lit up. “I’ve been volunteering at a house of hospitality for the homeless,” she shared, telling me about all the different services they provided: showers, meals, laundry.
Then she paused. “And,” she added, “I’ve been silent.”
A quiet, still house, sans noise of any kind, to be savored – that had been her sanity.
I exhaled. Only a mother surrounded by noise could appreciate fully that gift.
I told her that I understood, a little. Our long daily commute to school, while a burden in many ways, still afforded me a luxury I’d never had before: a solid half-hour of silence while my youngest napped in the backseat of the van. Sometimes I prayed the rosary, sometimes I listened to a podcast, but mostly, I chose silence.
Then, just a few days ago, I confided to two friends that I longed to make a silent retreat. They looked at each other, eyes wide. They didn’t think they could do it – three days without talking? Impossible.
But me? I crave it. I crave silence not just for silence’s sake. I desperately desire to crawl inside the silence between me and God and wait to hear Him. Because true Christian silence is a welcoming space, an adoring pause in our endless interior monologues, carved out in order to receive the One who created us in silence and calls us back into stillness to meet Him there.
The desire to see God is what urges us to love solitude and silence. For silence is where God dwells. He drapes himself in silence. – Robert Cardinal Sarah
The silence of prayer is a surrendering of our own words and the noise surrounding us so that something far fuller can rush in – so that we can be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). So that the creative, powerful and eternally self-donating Word, the one Word that matters, the eloquent Word that contains perfectly within it all our poor scattered syllables of truth, can be spoken. And in speaking, transform us within that silence to be a little bit more like Him. In speaking, reduce our interior and exterior storms to obedient breezes.
Then, awed and hushed, we answer. And engage in that sacred dialogue: prayer. The rising of our response, Spirit-filled and soaked with humility and love.
While God will – and does – meet us anywhere, He doesn’t like to shout. He prefers whispers to earthquakes, shattering winds, roaring fires (1 Kings 19:11-13). (And I’m pretty sure, obnoxious music at trampoline parks.) So when we wonder where He is, we may have to creatively seek out a little stillness; sneak away from the endless stream of sounds our world pours into us, even sometimes the beautiful babble of our babies. (I love an adoration chapel for a holy silence filled with God. )
Then, slowly, silence can become a habit of the heart. Mysteriously, the more I seek it out, the more I take with me. An interior stillness, a listening spirit everywhere in my kingdom of chaos. And the discordant everyday noise is sweetened and moderated by the adoration within.
“Humanity advances toward love through adoration, ” says Cardinal Sarah in The Power of Silence. “Sacred silence, laden with the adored presence, opens the way to mystical silence, full of loving intimacy.”
My friend from the trampoline park reminds me of Our Blessed Mother in many ways: in her devoted motherhood and her attentive service to the poor, certainly, but also in her embrace of silence. Mary, who in the Gospels is a woman of few words but much marveling, pondering, quiet and receptive love. “Her prayer, ” says Cardinal Sarah, “was a perpetual silence in God.”
It’s more than I can manage, Mary’s perpetual silence. But I am quite sure I can find a few moments of quiet somewhere…
Where are my car keys??