Wednesday, March 31, 2010



Haven’t we heard or said those three words repeatedly all our lives? We all seek peace and quiet in some way because the world is increasingly cacophonous. Don’t you hate the deafening whirr and roar of power lawnmowers? Have you considered “Environmentally friendly vegetation management?” A business called “Goats-R-Us” will lease you “Soft and Silent Machines” with four legs and horns to take care of your lawn or fields and in the process they will consume most of the things you would normally take to the dumpster!

Noise brings out the worst in us; it is a form of air pollution that takes a toll on our bodies by increasing 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 cause illness.

Where can we find the quiet we long for? Can we ever escape noise in our modern world? We must 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 never to end in our crowded urban areas. A move to the suburbs simply substitutes one environmental noise for another. People pay big money for vacation trips to escape to some quiet corner of the world—only to discover that there is no silent 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 now designate quiet floors; some hospitals mandate “quiet time” for an hour or two daily in an effort toward healing and rest. The practice has met with positive patient response. Daycare centers include quiet times to subdue the hubbub for the well being of young children.

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

Well then, can we legislate silence? The EPA has determined that noise above 55 decibels outdoors and 45 decibels indoors is detrimental to concentration and work production. Would you believe, noise levels of more than 100 decibels are the norm on today’s dance floors! I heard of a rock music festival in 2005 promoted as a “silent disco.” Everyone wore wireless headphones and partied until dawn without disturbing nearby residents. Activist groups rally to increase awareness of and fight noise pollution; they lobby 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.

Have you considered that complete silence may not really exist? In an effort to find it, a park outside of Los Angeles offers a two hour silent hike to “let nature speak for itself.” However, even our God-created natural world is surprisingly loud. Living creatures buzz, chirp, croak, squawk, cackle, screech, hoot, bellow, moo, and whinny, but they don’t assault our mental state as much as mechanical sounds. So then, do we have to go out into space to find quiet? Science tells us that the universe is not silent either!

Should we try to isolate ourselves in our search for quiet and tranquility? Being alone may not bring the kind of peace we are looking for—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. Some children 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 our ears never completely switch off sounds even when we sleep; did you know that the brain still registers noise? We hear things while sleeping that in the normal course of daily life are drowned out. And if our spouse snores, we lie awake and our nighttime blood pressure spikes!

Peace and quiet are not the same. You can find relative quiet and still not 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, 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. Sacred Scripture says, “Be still and know that I am God.” We long to be led “by still waters” so that our 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 our goal. 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.

Can I honestly excuse myself by claiming that in the hubbub of my daily life and busy household or pursuit of career I don’t have time to seek God in silence? Of course it takes careful planning and earnest spiritual desire to carve out slices of silence in our daily lives. Nevertheless, it is essential for our 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) In Psalm 62:1 King David says, “My soul waits in silence for God alone.” Silent spiritual retreats are making a comeback. Contemplation as a deep communion with God draws us into silence. Investing our quiet time to gaze on the beauty of Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration is priceless.

The rewards of waiting in silence upon God are far out of proportion to our feeble efforts. Listen! God wants to speak to you in your silence!