The Personalist Project

Accessed on January 28, 2020 - 10:08:03


Jules van Schaijik, Apr 17, 2012

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.