~ Our Noisy Lives ~
“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.”
Dear Members and Friends, Michelle and I were given a nice big television as a wedding gift, thirteen years ago. It was one of those bulky, heavy TVs of former times. It looked like it had a little Volkswagen engine crammed into the hunchback just behind the screen. Somehow we never noticed everyone else moving to flat screens. We still thought our TV was state-of-the-art until about four years ago when it gave up the ghost. We had just seen a skit on Saturday Night Live that made a passing joke about “your parents’ TV” that weighs fifty pounds, and we looked at each other and said, “Are they making fun of…us?” We never really replaced the ancient apparatus. I still recall our first few months without a TV. I felt so bad for the kids, who were still pretty small. What’s a childhood without television? We used to sit them in front of the TV to eat their breakfast. We sat them there on Saturday mornings—probably because we both grew up with Saturday morning cartoons. We sat them in front of the “flickering blue parent” whenever we needed a break from them. Don’t get me wrong. We were not one of those families that always had the TV blaring in the background. Aside from breakfast and Saturday mornings, the rule was no TV before 7:00 p.m. But when the TV went kaput, an uncomfortable silence descended over our house, and I found myself asking, “Is this okay for kids—to live without the noise, and the distraction, and the imaginative play of television?”
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. Kids not only survive the absence of television; they actually thrive in it. I recently read an article claiming that children need to be bored, that parents shouldn’t constantly give them things to busy their hands and minds, that in stillness and silence their thoughts are free to wander in ways that are good for them. And not just children! If civility is in decline in America today, I wonder if it’s not in part because we’re starving our minds of the “open spaces” they need in order to be healthy. We’re constantly accessible to text messages, emails, phone calls, social media, radios, and of course, television. Oh, the gaffs and groans that the social media service “Twitter” brings us almost daily! (And “Twitter” is a perfect name for it.) Our spirits are being crowded and polluted by unlimited input. Consider this quote from the Jesuit theologian, Ladislaus Boros:
“For anyone who wishes to hear what is true and real, every voice must for once be still. Silence, however, is not merely the absence of speech. It is not something negative; it is something in itself. It is a depth, a fullness, a peaceful flow of hidden life. Everything true and great grows in silence. Without silence we fall short of reality and cannot plumb the depths of being.”
“Without silence we fall short of reality!” This is a diagnosis of the ills of modern life—our anxiety, our fatigue, our irritability, our polarization. We’re not getting the empty time we need to develop healthy emotions and thoughts, and the result is a disconnection from reality. You might be tempted to say, “Oh, it’s just Brian, making his annual appeal for everyone to stop talking.” It’s true that I might be guiltier than you of filling the world with useless words. I admit, too, that sometimes we can’t even get a handle on our life until we’ve put its experiences into words. Talking can be good. And yet, maybe we’d all be happier if we drove to work with the radio off. Maybe we’d be saner if we gave ourselves a day—just one day a week—when we rested from emails, computers, and phones. Maybe that day could be Sunday?
Sometimes even noisy things can help us to cultivate silence in our lives, too. All the best music does it. Poetry does it, as does most art—which is admittedly noiseless. Going to church nurtures a healthy silence in us, for even though extended moments of silence are rare in worship, the words, and the music, and the atmosphere of church plucks at strings in our spirit that aren’t otherwise touched. It gives us things to ponder later in the week. In any case, let’s make an effort to counter the craziness of our world with a healthy dose of silence every now and again.
In Christ’s Peace,
PS: Another urgent appeal, completely unrelated: Please make a real effort to talk to visitors, especially if they are alone. Invite them to coffee hour; ask to sit with them; hand them our informational brochure. Sometimes we’re so happy to see each other that visitors feel like they’re sitting in on someone else’s family reunion!