Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
-- Simon and Garfunkel, "Sounds of Silence"
Many people struggle with silence. When it arrives, anxiety grips us, and the first instinct is to say something -- anything. As long as something is being said, there is comfort. Often we fill the void with words that have no meaning.
Introverts know silence as a good friend and find energy wrapped in the quietness. The pauses allow thought and the basic experience of existence. Quiet time is purposefully created to re-energize the soul and nourish the spirit.
I've struggled with silence all my life, especially when not allowing it is disrespectful. When I was a child, my mom played a quiet game, in which my brothers and sisters would always break with giggles. We tended to yell when we could not be quiet.
Later, while in seminary in New England, I experienced a new kind of quiet. I studied with a rather large South Korean population at the school, and I noticed the frequency of pauses in the conversation. Being myself, I filled the gaps. I noticed this caused a conversational disturbance. It wasn't until two years in that I read about a conversational trait I'd never considered. In some Asian cultures, a thought in conversations starts with a first part. A pause happens, as the speaker thinks through the second part, and the listeners may be respectful to continue to listen in silence. Soon, the most profound part of the conversations starts and completes. I had been cutting off the conversation by interrupting silence that was purposeful and planned.
My prayer life had been similarly disjointed because I had not realized how important meditative moments -- being in the presence of our creator and listening. The monk Thomas Merton called it darkness, which is beyond logic or reason. The communication ceases to be words, and it is replaced by the presence of love.
For me, prayers were always requests of God and conversations relaying my own thoughts. In 2 Corinthians 4:7 it says that we are like jars of clay and potentially full of the power of God, but I often was not refreshed or recharged because I didn't push through our loud world, nor through the busyness of my loud heart, and God just wasn't my priority. I was.
Now I find myself with my spiritual eyes open late at night. If I look around, I do not see anything. I am unable to speak because I would wake up my wife and our new dog. I open up my being to God's presence and I listen to the silence. I remember Scriptures like Psalm 46:10a: "Be still and know that I am God." I remember when Jesus himself was healing and preaching, surrounded by multitudes and yet the Gospel of Mark says he went to a quiet place to pray.
If Jesus needed to recharge his spiritual batteries and seek the will of his father, so do I. Whether it is silent listening, the art of speaking Scripture as prayers in Lectio Divina, or just quieting the soul in the midst of a loud culture, there is strength and refuge, peace and grace for all people who recognize God's presence.
"The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." -- Psalm 46:11
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.