'The Sound of Silence'
March 7, 2008
It is hard to believe that we are only a short week from Passion Sunday and Holy Week. Our Lenten pilgrimage began this year in the first week of February and is drawing toward its summit while the chill of winter hasn’t let go.
Lent means many things, but if something comes to mind first it is usually the idea of “giving up” something for the penitential season. People will often “give up” a favorite treat. Chocolate seems to be the nearly universal form of abstinence, though with our early Lent this might have left the traditional Valentine’s Day box of candy under wraps until April this year. Others try to “give up” a bad habit, like smoking or overeating.
As we approach Holy Week together, I’d like to offer two suggestions to add to your Lenten season this year. In addition to the “give up,” the fast and abstinence asked of us by the church, and to the acts of charity — “almsgiving” — that are traditional to the Lenten season, let’s try to focus as well on prayer and silence.
Anchor of salvation
Prayer should always be a part of our daily lives. But in these last two weeks of Lent, let’s try to intensify our dedication to prayer.
Speaking at the beginning of Lent, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us of what prayer means in our lives:
“Prayer nourishes hope because nothing expresses the reality of God in our life better than praying with faith. Even in the loneliness of the most severe trial, nothing and no one can prevent me from addressing the Father in the secret of my heart ... and enables us to experience God as the only anchor of salvation.”
A life rooted in prayer gives us the extraordinary gift of never being alone, never being abandoned. When Blessed Mother Teresa spoke of Americans, she always expressed sadness at our poverty. Not poverty such as she saw on the streets of Calcutta, but a poverty of loneliness that wealth and material goods could never answer. Prayer means that God-With-Us hears us and never walks away. No matter the darkness that surrounds us, we are never by ourselves.
A life of prayer also means that we must never depend solely on ourselves. The Holy Father warns that without prayer in our lives, we withdraw into ourselves. Without prayer, our conscience — which should be the voice of God speaking to us — just becomes an echo of our own thoughts, a mirror that reflects back our own experience, rationalization and fear. Without prayer, that inner voice becomes a dreary monologue.
“True prayer,” the Holy Father says, “is the driving force of the world since it keeps it open to God. For this reason, without prayer there is no hope but only illusion.”
Clear your head
My second suggestion for these last two weeks of Lent works hand-in-glove with prayer. Let’s try to find points of silence in our lives.
As a baby boomer growing up in the 1960s, one common hobby was to collect “records.” Those round discs made of vinyl were designed to transmit via the phonograph the sounds of our favorite musical artists. Records came in two sizes: albums with at least 12 songs, set to play at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, and singles, with two songs at 45 rpm’s.
As I look back on those days of adolescence and early adulthood, I had a number of favorite artists: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder — all the singers associated with the “Motown sound.” I also favored Sonny and Cher, James Taylor, Barbra Streisand, and Simon and Garfunkel.
The last of these artists, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, were recognized as musicians who wrote and sang lyrics with a message, sometimes serious. While my favorite song of their vintage was “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” I well remember another of their hits titled “The Sound of Silence.”
Recently, I have been reflecting on how much noise there is in the world in which we live. We have television stations that air programs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Any number of people carry personal CD players into schools, on planes, in the car, while jogging, riding, flying. Radios all along the dial on the AM and FM bands broadcast all sorts of sounds imaginable all the time. And while we who are consumers, beneficiaries or in some cases the “victims” of all these sounds, I wonder how much we appreciate “The Sound of Silence” — and I am not referring to the Simon and Garfunkel hit.
There is something blessed about “The Sound of Silence.” In those quiet moments we have the opportunity to connect with God.
In “The Sound of Silence” we have the opportunity to let God offer us a perspective on life.
In “The Sound of Silence” we have the chance to get in touch with our thoughts and dreams and even pains.
In “The Sound of Silence” we are afforded the opportunity to clear our heads and travel more deeply into our hearts.
“Be still, and know that I am God”
Yet, with all of these wonderful benefits of engaging “The Sound of Silence,” fewer are the opportunities that we as a society seem to take of “The Sound of Silence.”
This is an important matter to consider given that “The Sound of Silence” is a necessary prelude to prayer — to connecting with God and especially to hearing what God has to say to us.
As I was writing this article, I shared my first draft with a good friend. She recalled God’s words from the Old Testament: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). As you and I continue to address noise as one of the pollutions of our age, perhaps we can even more so look for, respect and respond to “The Sound of Silence” in our day-to-day lives. In that silence we cannot only more clearly “listen” to God speaking to us but also actually come to know God better.
Little did I know way back then when I was a “wet behind the ears teenager” how true and blessed Simon and Garfunkel’s message really is: “The Sound of Silence.”