The Role of Silence

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If silence is not one of the sounds we associate with Christmas preparations, the chances are that we will miss an experience of love and tenderness that is at the heart of this holiday season. We have the twelve days of Christmas in which to begin to practice this silence. Imagine the silence of that cold night when Jesus was born in a stable and laid tenderly in the manger. After the birth, Joseph and Mary would have had time to look at that beautiful child laying there wrapped against the chill. It is not hard to imagine them meditating wordlessly on the miracle that they shared there in that humble place. The shepherds were not there yet. The Magi would come later. Joseph and Mary were alone there with the Christ-child and their thoughts. I can imagine that the silence in that tender and, yet, earth shattering moment, would have been like the silence in the moment before God spoke the Word of Creation.

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When I witnessed the births of my own children, though I was an educated man, I found myself speechless. I became strangely inarticulate. There were no words in my whole experience of teaching the world’s greatest pieces of literature that could truly describe what I had witnessed, nor what I felt in that moment. What Mary and Joseph knew about this child must have made them mute with prayerful awe.

Silence. It is one of the most important tools in a prayerful life. Remember Elijah’s experience with the silence of God? The Lord said, ʺGo out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.ʺ (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Elijah did not experience the presence of the Lord in the raging force of the wind, or in the shattering power of the earthquake, or in the terrible intensity of fire; he knew it in the silence, a mere whisper. With all the ‘noise’ of Christmas, the constant siren calls of commercialism, the babble of the shopping malls, the blaring of Christmas music in every public space we go, it is often difficult to hear the real message of Christmas. Let us, then, set aside time, alone or with our families, to think about and pray about what Christmas really means in the world today. That birth happened 2,013 years ago, but the impact of that birth, the gift of that humble, quiet entrance of the Messiah into human history, must be translated into the chaos of our own times. Let us pray in silence in our homes as well as in small moments during our days at work. It is in that silence that we will finally hear the gentle ʺwhisperʺ of God’s voice and know that we are both loved and called to heavenly things.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.