When I was young and somehow given the chance to stay home alone, I loved to sit in the quiet house and hear what I could hear. It was strange to me that even without my sisters playing or my great-grandmother’s television blaring, the house was not quiet. I could hear the hum of the refrigerator and the lull of the cars on the main street beyond ours — even our house crackled as it settled.
I wanted to get beyond those sounds to hear silence. I wondered what silence even sounded like and what I’d find there.
I remember last March, when Gov. Inslee gave us the stay-at-home order, silence was frightening. There were no children playing at the park, no traffic from the main street. I even missed the sound of construction. I discovered noise comforted me. I liked the busyness, the movement. I wasn’t as brave when it came to silence as I had been as a child.
Silence is scary for some. We are afraid of what might surface in the silence. Grief? Anger? Sadness?
In Psalm 131, David sang:
I have stilled my soul,
Like a weaned child to its mother,
weaned is my soul.
When David sat in silence with God, he felt like a satisfied infant who stops crying because he is in his mother’s arms. When my sons were small, I too had that power. They’d come to me with any problem, and just holding them in my arms made it go away.
When we are frightened of silence, it would be good to think of God in this way. God is our parent and wants to calm the grief, the anger, the sadness. God has the power to do this too.
In the last year, through lockdowns, isolation and distress, I decided to befriend the silence. I felt there was not much else to do but give in and make friends with it. In the silence, I found Jesus. Now silence has become my favorite prayer.
Words fail me. Often. David sings again in Psalm 65, “To you we owe our hymn of praise, O God.” In the Hebrew, it says, “Silence is praise to you, O God.” I’m glad to hear that, because “Wow” or “I love you” never seems to cut it. But to sit in God’s presence, to soak up a bit of who he is? Of course, there are no words to describe that.
I know when I sit still and rest in God’s presence, I hear him more clearly. I know his comfort. I see the “Big Picture” more clearly. I know he is strengthening me to move forward. I know him better; I know I am loved.
Henri Nouwen prayed that we would “prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen.” May this be our prayer. May we sit in silence and hear what we can hear.
Northwest Catholic – January/February 2021
Shemaiah Gonzalez, a member of St. James Cathedral Parish, is a freelance writer with degrees in English literature and intercultural ministry. Find more of her writing at shemaiahgonzalez.com.
Shemaiah Gonzalez, miembro de la parroquia de la Catedral de Saint James, es escritora independiente con diplomas en Literatura inglesa y Ministerio Intercultural. Puedes encontrar más de sus redacciones en: shemaiahgonzalez.com.