By Michael N. Jagessar
“In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.” (Rumi)
We live in contexts that encourage activity for activity’s sake (Thomas Merton). In our noise-distraction-filled world, connected to all sorts of gadgets that both fill our already crowded lives and demand our attention, we are in danger of missing the power of silence and the need to “pause”. In our Reformed context silence is often filled by our preference towards the word read, spoken, written and towards rational appeals. How easy is it to find moments of quiet in the busy, hurried and consumer frantic season of Advent? Where are the silences in Advent that allow us to be expectant, waiting and watching – reflecting on the meaning of Christmas? The absence of silence, however, is more than an issue during Advent and Christmas. How much space do we give to silence and “pause” in our worship, meetings, gatherings, and in our personal and corporate life together? Can it be that the inability to “pause” may be one of the reasons why our conversations may feel frustrating and futile?
Living conversations need silence or pause. For silence creates space and opportunities to process the many things we share in intense conversations that may leave us with little sense of movement or an outcome. Pausing or taking time out to reflect may be one way to give deeper thought to our words and views, to engage with our internal processes, and to think more about what our conversation partners are actually saying. Perhaps in the quiet we may be better able to grasp how instinctive it is to want to fill the silence out of fear that others may fill it with a different view. Rather than an empty space that we must rush in to fill, silence is often the most important dimension in a conversation – a transition moment that enables genuine communication. And, paying attention to the silence within our conversations and embracing such spaces may help us to reconnect with ourselves, to become aware of our prejudices and to be better geared to participate in mutual inconveniencing that can move us beyond our own views.
In the midst of the competing voices and claims around him, Jesus took ‘time-out’ to retreat from the crowds to pray and contemplate. These moments of pause and silence were necessary—a vital practice of a spirit beating to and in tune with the heart of God. We also know from the Scriptures and from the lives of many Christian saints that silence helps to deepen our awareness of ‘the still, small voice within us’, and to distinguish it from all the competing voices around us. The message is simple: the more of silence we inhabit, the more we would become aware of what needs to be said through us, distinguishing it from what we desire to say. And what needs to be said through us may be less of words and more of a listening and accompanying presence.
So in our next conversation or meeting, when we find ourselves reverting to our default mode by saying the things we normally say, consider silence or a pause. We give deep thought to what we may have just said, and then check whether what we have to say next is reflecting who we are in the moment. If what we say leads to self-awareness, then we have most likely been experiencing the transforming power of silence.