Find out who God is and what you mean when you think of your concept of Him. Your concept will be very small (because He is above our thinking) but you will fill your heart with Awe and Wonder. Marvel at His Greatness, power, and mercy. All of this will be a fun activity to enjoy.–excerpt from letter, Brother Rene, February 2004
Last weekend, I was in the car with my husband heading over the Golden Gate Bridge, on our way to Sonoma for a day trip. We both decided not to have any music playing, and instead sank into a silence as we absorbed the scenery, the while sails drifting in the bay, the orange pillars of the bridge, and the green hills. I noticed the silence in the car, but it was a good silence, and a comfortable one. For many years, I felt anxious when my husband and I were not talking in the car. I would lean into the armrest and like a parrot, I’d keep repeating: so how are you doing?
But now, after two decades, I could relax into the warm hush that filled the car. I allowed my body to lean into my cloth seat and savor the moment. Granted, there are times when pursuing a conversation is important in a marriage, but this wasn’t one of those moments.
This was a moment of appreciating that I was actually comfortable being quiet. Over the last few years, I have grown into silence. It’s been a slow build for me: attending retreats in which talking was restricted; consciously not turning on the radio or talking on the phone on the way to work; being with my elderly mother who doesn’t talk much; and spending more time alone, in prayer, in creative work, and in my own company.
I have grown into silence: both in my marriage, and in the rest of my life. I do believe that silence allows us to hear in a different way. I also believe that silence is something that is cultivated, through intention, practice, and recognizing it as a gift.
I have often heard, “Silence is God’s first language.” We need silence to hear God. As I read Brother Rene’s words of wisdom to expand my concept of God, I realized how much silence is a doorway to this expansion.
I work part-time in an elementary school library. A few years ago, I decided to start my library classes by having the students take three quiet breaths before we begin as a way to settle down. It helps me stay centered throughout the day, too. By the last inhale and exhale, there is a calm feeling of silence in the room. “That’s eerie,” said a ten-year talkative boy once.
Silence may seem eerie at first, uncomfortable, even strange, but give it time. Now, I seek silence where it can be found. Recently, I was hiking with a friend, and we naturally feel into moderate silence. Now and then, we would comment on a hawk crossing the sky, or the field of yellow lupines, but we could see and appreciate those things because we were both being silent partners.
Learning to give yourself permission to be silent allows you to give permission to those around you to be silent. Granted, not all silence is good or necessary, but a fair amount is nurturing and restorative in our busy, jam-packed way of living.
For one week, try the following practices: decide to be quiet on the way to work if possible, no cell phone or radio; spend one-hour this week with yourself in silence, while taking a walk, or working in your garden, or sitting on a bench savoring what’s around you.
Here are a few quotes to inspire you on the value and practice of silence—enjoy!
In the sweet territory of silence we touch the mystery. It’s the place of reflection and contemplation, and it’s the place where we can connect with the deep knowing, to the deep wisdom way. — Angeles Arrien quoted in The Millionth Circle by Jean Shinoda Bolen
Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God. — Thomas Keating quoted in The Sun & Moon Over Assisi by Gerard Thomas Straub
There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden, or even your bathtub. — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross quoted in Awakening to the Sacred by Lama Surya Das
If you would like to read more from my correspondence with Brother René, check out my forthcoming book, which contains excerpts from our letters: Seeking Surrender: How my Friendship with a Trappist Monk Taught me to Trust and Embrace Life (Ave Maria Press, April 2015).