The Personalist Project


Today, on Facebook, Mark Griswold quotes Archbishop Chaput on the importance of silence:

We need silence, more than anything… If people can create some time every day — even just an hour — when they eliminate all the distracting noise of American life, their spirit will naturally begin to grow. Daily life in the United States is so filled with appetites and tensions stimulated by the mass media that turning the media off almost automatically results in deeper and clearer thinking. And that interior quiet can very easily lead us to God. (As far as I can Google, this interview from 2007, about how to live Lent well, is the source.)

This brings to mind a thought from Max Picard, whose book The World of Silence I was just reading to see if it would be a good candidate for a future Reading Circle*. Picard explains well, in the following lines, both, why silence is so hard for us moderns to practice, and why it is so important that we try:

Silence is the only phenomenon today that is "useless". It does not fit into the world of profit and utility; it simply is. It seems to have no other purpose; it cannot be exploited... It is "unproductive". Therefore it is regarded as valueless.

Yet there is more help and healing in silence than in all the "useful things"... It strengthens the untouchable, it lessens the damage inflicted by exploitation. It makes things whole again, by taking them back from the world of dissipation into the world of wholeness. It gives things something of its own holy uselessness, for that is what silence itself is: holy uselessness.

There is no real disharmony, of course, between Picard's view and that of the Archbishop, who emphasizes the "use" of silence for spiritual growth and clear thinking. But I find Picard's way of expressing himself more directly challenging to me. I find in myself a strong urge to fill periods of silence with useful stuff. A long drive, for instance, is not only boring to me, but also feels like "wasted time" unless I bring an audiobook to listen to. Not just an exciting story to make the trip go faster, but something worthwhile, like Jane Eyre, Howard's End, or Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I tell mysefl that books like these are intellectually and spiritually "profitable"; that they are an easy way to fill up some gaps in my education. And yet, somehow, such "great books" too can easily become an obstacle to interiority. Without plenty of silence they begin to "puff up" rather than "build up".

* Feel free to give me a thumbs up or down in the comments, or, for that matter, to make any other suggestions you may have.

Comments (4)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Apr 18, 2012 10:55am

Being a person who craves silence, I am so grateful to find my desire explained and justified.  It's nice to have what you yearn for anyway enjoined as a duty. And it's also good to be reminded that I shouldn't see it as a self-indulgence, but as a necessity of personal existence.  

The last few days of beautiful weather I have spent some hours just sitting in my garden, loving its beauty, and feeling my soul sort of calming down and centering.  Even though there's a constant background sound of traffic, it's still an experience of silence somehow.

There's a great Pieper quote about silence that I came across in preparing my courtship class yesterday.  I'll see if I can find it again.

Carol Cirrotti

#2, Apr 18, 2012 11:24am

Please do, Katie. This has always been a huge challenge for me. It warms my heart to hear you too, are a craver of silence. Few people understand this. It is especially difficult when those closest to you find it an incomprehensible waste of time.

We have spent some time the past three winters in a Florida parish that has perpetual adoration. Oh how my spirit soars being in our Lord's presence on a daily basis and being away from the phone and internet for an extended period and taking leisurely walks on the beach and long quiet glances at the sky. Delightful! 

I encourage you as the Lord has encouraged me.  Do what you love. It is not a gift given to all to love silence. Nurture it.

Jules van Schaijik

#3, Apr 19, 2012 8:17am

A relevant quote from Kierkegaard I just came across in Walter Lowrie's biography of him:

[S]ilence and action correspond to one another perfectly. Silence is the measure of the power to act. A man has never more power to act than he has power to be silent.

Devra Torres

#4, Apr 19, 2012 6:02pm

Katie, I feel just the same way when I hear someone exhorting parents to make sure to let their children see them reading, to set an example of reading for pleasure.

Katie van Schaijik, Apr. 18 at 9:55am

Being a person who craves silence, I am so grateful to find my desire explained and justified. It's nice to have what you yearn for anyway enjoined as a duty. 

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