Monday, August 12, 2013


In my latter years, I seem to seek peace and quiet more urgently because the world about me has become increasingly cacophonous. Noise seems to bring out the worst in everyone; it is a form of air pollution that takes a toll on our bodies by increasing our blood pressure and heart rate and stressing our minds. Repeated super-loud noise is not only a nuisance and assault to our ears, but can actually cause deafness. Stress hormones from noise surge into our bloodstream and contribute to illness. 
Where can I find the quiet I long for? Can I ever escape noise in our modern world? I endure the blast of industrial noise in the name of progress, the clank and bang of construction with pneumatic jack hammers, air compressors, dump trucks, bulldozers, loaders, cement trucks, and pavement breakers that seem to be everywhere in crowded urban areas.

A move to the suburbs? That simply substitutes one environmental noise for another. There is the deafening whirr and roar of power lawnmowers. I've heard of “environmentally friendly vegetation management.” Someone started a business called “Goats-R-Us.” They lease “Soft and Silent Machines” with four legs and horns that don't honk to take care of lawns or fields, and in the process they consume most of the things one would normally take to the dumpster!

People pay big money for vacation trips to escape to some quiet corner of the world only to discover that there is no silence on fantasy island.

In the search for silence, some corporations install quiet “nap pods” for the use of executives and employees during break time. Some hotel chains designate quiet floors; certain hospitals mandate “quiet time” for an hour or two daily in an effort toward healing and rest. The practice has met with enthusiastic response from patients. Daycare centers include quiet times to counter the constant hubbub of active young children. 

Our search for mental repose may lead to the purchase of noise cancellation headphones which emit opposing sound waves to mask noise. One could go the cheaper route of earplugs. Virtually soundproof rooms with carpeted walls, ceilings, and floors are in demand for certain buildings. Anechoic chambers have been experimented with to test whether human beings can exist in absolute silence. So far the results have been negative and far from healthful—no one seems to be able to endure complete absence of sound very long before panic set in. I recently heard about noise-masking machines to distract our ears with a drone-like monotonous hum. 

Well then, can laws force silence? The EPA has determined that noise above 55 decibels outdoors and 45 decibels indoors is detrimental to concentration and work production. It's a fact that noise levels of more than 100 decibels are the norm on today’s dance floors! I heard of a rock music festival that tried out a “silent disco.” Everyone wore wireless headphones to hear the music and partied until dawn without disturbing nearby residents. Activist groups rally to increase awareness of noise pollution; they lobby to fight it by trying to adopt noise codes. Community planners erect sound barriers along heavy traffic highways to deaden the never-ending, nerve-racking honking, roar, blare, rumble, and screech of commuters and freight transport.

I have concluded that complete silence may not really exist. In an effort to find it, a park outside of Los Angeles offered a two hour silent hike to “let nature speak for itself.” However, even our God-created natural world is surprisingly noisy. Living creatures buzz, chirp, croak, squawk, cackle, screech, hoot, bellow, moo, and whinny, but they don’t seem to assault our mental state as much as mechanical sounds. 

How about if I could go out into space to find quiet? Science tells us that the universe is not silent either!

Should I try to isolate myself in my search for quiet and tranquility? Being alone may not bring the kind of peace I am looking for either—solitary confinement, after all, is a punishment in our prison system. Pure silence even makes some people uncomfortable. The minute they come into their homes or cars they switch on the radio or TV and even jog with a Walkman or iPod. Children today are conditioned to do their homework with loud, raucous background music and seem unable to concentrate when it is quiet. 

In the unlikely absence of all extraneous noise, we can still hear our own heartbeats and the vibrations in our eardrums. Those afflicted with the stress of tinnitus or constant ringing in the ears find that complete quiet is never possible. Nor can any of us escape from voices in our heads that are constantly carrying on muffled conversations. 

As a last resort, let’s go to bed and sleep soundly to achieve our silence. Ah, but we are told that our ears never completely switch off sounds even while we sleep; the brain still registers noise! I hear things while sleeping that in the normal course of daily life are drowned out. If a spouse snores, we lie awake and our nighttime blood pressure spikes! 

Peace is not the same as quiet. I could find relative quiet and still not have peace. Or in the midst of high decibel noise, I could have peace. Peace is an inward sense of harmony, rest, and stillness. Peace is a God-thing. Jesus promised, “My peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you” (John 14:27). It is a tranquil calmness of the soul, of one’s inner spirit. Peace is obedience to the will of God and union with His Holy Spirit. It can even be achieved without absolute silence, although silence enhances the possibility of peace. Cistercian monk and priest, Thomas Keating, declared that “silence is the language God speaks, and everything else is a bad translation.” God leads me “by still waters” so that my soul can be restored.

The saints, the holy men and women of God through the ages, knew the value of silence in relation to God’s peace. They were able to confront themselves in silence and also hear the voice of God. Nothing less should be my desire. The question is not to whom does God speak, but who listens? Scripture tells us that the voice of God is heard as a still, small voice, not in the rumble of an earthquake or the noise of the whirlwind. 

I may claim that in the clamor of my daily life and busy household or pursuit of career I can't find big hunks of silence in which to seek God. If that is the case, with some careful planning and earnest spiritual desire I can carve out some mini-slices of silence in my daily life. They are essential for my spiritual welfare and progress in holiness. 

In the book of Ecclesiastes we read, “There is an appointed time for everything…there is a time to be silent” (3:1,7). King David declared in the Psalms, “My soul waits in silence for God alone.” Silent spiritual retreats are becoming popular again. Contemplation as a deep communion with God draws the soul into silence.
The rewards of waiting in silence upon God are far out of proportion to my feeble efforts.

Shhhh—listen—if I have ears to hear, as Jesus expressed it, God wants to speak to me in my silence. “Be still, my soul.” That's easier said than done with the incessant noise around me. Nevertheless it is possible by capturing and savoring even small slices of silence.


The cacophony of the TV-shaped world
distracts my soul, muffles important thoughts
threatens my spirit with perpetual commotion.

Buzzes, drones, babbles and jabber
of nine-to-five dins and distractions
keep me from hearing myself think.
The high decibel level of external racket
injures my sensitive inner spirit.

I long for the silent slots
between the roaring, roiling surf
and the cry of gliding gulls
away from blaring boom boxes
nerve-jangling clamor
and raucous background bedlam.
I yearn to bask in the selected silence
of my treasured space within
tune into its buoyant joy
revel in its simple serenity.

I need a still-point at my center
to sense what is happening
in the inner chamber of my heart
a place where I can freely retreat
be at home with my tender spirit
and in touch with the Spirit of God.

I learn from silence:
Silence is a patient teacher
nourishing me to become wise.
Silence is a welcoming harbor
beckoning me to anchor my soul.
In silence I feel quickened and alive
bathed in its tranquil quality
a strange and beautiful dimension.
In silence I am alert to the voice of God
unheard by ears near-deaf to peace.

The cosmic rhythm of God
alternates between sound and silence
majestic words and universal hush:
The Creator broke the interstellar silence
with His thundering, creative word
or was His whisper enough?
then rested in serene satisfaction
declaring—to whom? “It is good!”

The unfathomable silences of God
are mysterious and frustrating
consoling, yet withholding understanding
filled with hidden meaning
requiring my full trust and respect
even when I can’t hear God.

The One Who is called The Word
does not always speak aloud
and I do not always listen.
But if my ears are open to hear
His silence is as eloquent
as when Jesus stood before Pilate
quiet, answering not, but distinctly heard.

I protect my patches of silence
snatches between the press and stress
of the mandatory and obligatory.
I guard them jealously
run eagerly to my times of silence.
I find them in the ordinary—
when dawn breaks quietly
as I watch in hushed wonder—
when evening shadows steal in
and I lay tasks and burdens aside—
when I’m wrapped in the blanket of darkness.
I stand in awe and lift my mortal eyes
gazing beyond the starry skies.
It is then I hear in the pregnant stillness
the unmistakable voice of God.


“Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest....” Hebrews 4:11
“Be still and know that I am God” [cease striving] Psalm 46:10
[Jesus said to His disciples in the midst of busy ministry] “Come apart and rest awhile.”
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest....” Matthew 11:28
“You are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary,
really only one....” Luke 10:41,42

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