I am a “tortured contemplative.” I am a pronounced extrovert, and so solitude, and the silence which is supposed to come with it, are not natural for me. I once lived near a noisy road in suburbia, so silence was not easy to find. There were noisy dogs next door, and the noisiest neighbors God ever made. One of them was addicted to gas-powered, outdoor lawn maintenance tools. Another was hard-of-hearing and kept a television on his screened-in porch. My wife and I had put a lot of work into creating a back yard retreat, complete with a garden and a fountain we named “Arathusa,” after the nymph of streams and rivers. Imagine my frustration when, sitting in my back yard, “Family Guy” would be blaring from a TV 30 feet away from me. I was a clockmaker, and so we would have a hundred clocks that tick-tocked, some busy and fast, others slow and hypnotic, some that chimed every 15 minutes. And so silence–physical silence, that is–was a GIFT. It still is. It is like water for my thirsty soul. It is so pure, true silence is, in its nothingness, that when I come by it, I am deeply grateful for it.
Cave divers tell us that there is nothing so silent and life-giving than floating in a cavern under water. Like being in the womb, and so like being “born again”. True silence can engulf and embrace a person. It has a dimension of its own. It frightens the uninitiated because at first silence gives room to the din of voices in one’s head. But don’t be afraid. Let the voices surface and float away. They can’t harm you. Stay there long enough for the deeper silence to take hold. The deeper silence where God lives. And let it penetrate, and permeate. Until you are shot-through with silence. This is one way to conquer our inordinate fear of death, for when you realize that God lives in this silence, then the absolute silence of the grave becomes absolute God, because the more real the silence is, the more real God becomes.
But that’s just the power and gift of exterior silence.
There is a silence far more powerful than all the confusion and noise and clamoring and clanking of the gates of the Hell we often experience here. It is the inner silence–the silence of the soul–that transcends conflicted thought and emotion, conflict in the world, conflict and strife and terror and abuse and violence and hatred and lust–all things over which my soul can become unsettled. This silence of soul, when learned, is available upon demand. No matter the state of the exterior, which takes great intentionality and effort, if not luck, to bring into silence, silence of the soul is a rest that passes all understanding. You first know it when you contemplate God long enough for Him to get into you. And then you can learn to call upon this silence at any time. It is a silence that comes even while in the midst of trauma. It is the peace of God under lashings and insults and blows to the face and on the cross that gave rise to Jesus’ generosity of soul to forgive and love even His tormentors. It is the touch of God, it is the “unleashing” of God upon the world from the soul. Imagine if we could “unleash” God upon the world with this inner silence. Picture open hearts in the desert, silently pouring God out upon the sand until we are knee-deep in Him. Picture the flood rising above our heads. Picture cave-diving. Go. And learn silence. And then, go. And practice it. On the seventh day, God rested. And was silent.
— Chris Huff, St George’s Episcopal Church, Summerville, S.C.