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People are What They Do with Silence

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©Heidi Bratton Photography

No matter how hard we seem to try, we cannot avoid silence altogether.  We are obliged, for example, to deal with the natural silence that comes with sleep, sickness, death, and sorrow.  We also find ourselves dealing with moments of everyday silence that come right after waking up, during the morning commute, on a lunch break, after dinner, and right before bed.  With all of this time spent in silence, what we do with it seems to matter.

Since all of us have to take care of the basic biological functions of life; all of us have to spend time working in one capacity or another; and all of us have to spend time relating to others, it seems that the basic difference between a person who lives a life of faith and one who does not is what they do with that silence.

So ask yourself this: what do I do when there’s silence?  Do I fill it with extraneous activities?  Do I pray?

Prayer is a universal human vocation, which means not only that God calls everyone to it, but also that all major religions believe in it.  Besides, this is what God commanded us to do in Psalm 46, verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God.”  Thus, our joy ought to be the preservation and the promotion of communal and personal prayer.  We can do this by reigniting our desire to pray; seeking to better understand prayer; practicing prayer with greater care, consistency and depth; and by allowing prayer – which is the encounter with God – to lead us away from an obsession with the noisy things of life.

Our job, then, is to reorient our lives by engaging in a kind of human kenosis (a transliterated Greek word that means ‘self-emptying’).  Since secular society seems content on forever distracting us by noise, then the true believer must find the strength to seek silence.  Simply put, silence gives the body, soul, and spirit a specific time and place to pray.  In other words, silence gives us time to be in the presence of God.  As a result, prayer helps us to focus on the time to come.

When we use silence properly (to pray), we are opening ourselves up to the mystical union with God that may come after death.

Prayer unfolds in time, but essentially it transcends time.  That saintly people ‘lose a sense of time’ while praying is not merely the psychological result of an intense concentration: what really happens is a transfer into eternity.  Prayer is made ‘through Christ’.  Yet the time of Jesus is not simply one of earthly duration; he guides time to its fulfillment and entirely governs it.  The time of prayer is in itself sacred by the mere fact that it belongs to ‘the age to come’.  It tends no less towards the fullness to come and is directed toward the Day of the Lord (Tomáš Špidlík, SJ, PRAYER: The Spirituality of the Christian East, Volume 2, p. 109).

Since we can’t ultimately avoid all silence, we must decide to use silence the way God intended us to use it, to pray in order to find Him and seek our union with Him in all eternity.

So, during this Year of Faith, please ask yourself this:  what do I do with silence?  Do I avoid it at all costs?  Do I try to fill it with television, the Internet, or the radio?  Do I pray?  Do I try to turn the silence into natural times to be with God?

Let us pray for one another that we may live in the light of this kind of faith.


Thomas Colyandro is a professor for Catholic Distance University and the author of two books, including: The Judas Syndrome: Seven Ancient Heresies Return to Betray Christ Anew. He is completing a certificate from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge University, and already holds masters’ degrees in divinity and theology from the University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas, a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and a certificate from the Harvard-MIT Public Disputes Program.


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