Why silence?

In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen addresses "three ways of preventing the world from shaping us in its image and thus the three ways to life in the Spirit": solitude, silence, and prayer.

Thursday night I began the silence section of this short book (only 81 pages). It was the end of a strenuous day of medical-writing project deadlines and trying to untangle a personal essay that is due to my school advisor by Monday. My brain was overflowing with words. Approaching the topic of silence was like a balm. Even though the words I'd been dealing with were silent words, in my brain and on paper, they were words nonetheless and their traffic inside me was bumper-to-bumper.

Nouwen writes,

Over the last few decades we have been inundated by a torrent of words. Wherever we go we are surrounded by words: words softly whisphered, loudly proclaimed, or angrily screamed; words spoken, recited, or sung; words on records, in books, on walls, or in the sky; words in many sounds, many colors, or many forms; words to be heard, read, seen, or glanced at; words which flicker off and on, move slowly, dance, jump, or wiggle. Words, words, words! They form the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of our existence.

This was published in 1981. Think how many more words we have to look at in the course of day thanks to our online resources, including blogs.

Drawing from writings from the Desert Fathers, Nouwen goes on to say,

For [the Desert Fathers], the word is the instrument of the present world and silence is the mystery of the future world. If a word is to bear fruit it must be spoken from the future world into the present world. The Desert Fathers therefore considered their going into the silence of the desert to be a first step into the future world. From that world their words could bear fruit, because there they could be filled with the power of God's silence.

The issue of silence–ie, absence of words–is more than taking a break, just as true leisure is more than a break. It is a letting go of producing, a letting go of filling air and space with words we choose. It is putting ourselves in a position to receive something bigger than ourselves from outside of ourselves. (But the break part is a good perk.)

That's why I provided the silence-in-lieu-of-words post yesterday. Did you take the opportunity? I hope so. Maybe I'll do it again from time to time.