“Hello darkness, my old friend …”
So begins one of my favorite songs, sung by one of my favorite duos. I find it interesting that the song begins with saying ‘hi’ to darkness, rather than the subject of its title: ‘The Sound of Silence”. Did Simon and Garfunkel wish to equate darkness with silence? Is there something about ‘no-sound’ that can infer ‘lack-of-light’?
If you follow the words of the song this would seem to be the case: if we use silence when we should be rising up and shouting, then our silence really does lead to darkness. If we allow the silence of fear or indifference to quell protest, then darkness, once again, wins. If we remain mute to the suffering of others, darkness reigns.
We now live in a world where finding silence is almost impossible. I am sitting at my desk in a ‘quiet’ room, except … there is the fan of the computer; the fan of the air conditioning; the ticking of a clock in another room; the hum of the refrigerator; the mutterings of a sleeping Winston.
Through the (double-glazed) window I hear the faint sound of aircraft flying overhead. And if I go outside I am assailed by the sound of traffic, builders, birds, and insects. The wind is beginning to blow, bringing with it a unique moan of nature. And soon – if the predictions are correct – that same wind will be screaming as Hurricane Irma brings its own kind of darkness to bear on Florida.
And yet …
… for some silence is something to be feared – to be avoided. Many feel the need to disfigure silence with ‘background noise’: TVs, radios, internet music – anything to beat it into submission; to displace the silence that would otherwise reverberate.
Silence leaves us alone with our own thoughts, and not many can cope with that. Silence can leave us vulnerable to voices from the past, sorrow, longings, yearnings – a weight we’d sooner not reckon with. Silence may bring us face to face with the reality that is our own finitude: we are growing … older … time … is … shrinking … Best to do all we can to avoid it.
And still …
… we need silence.
For those of us who claim belief in Christ, we need silence the most. We are the people who most need to open ourselves up to experiencing real silence in our sound-cluttered, mind-cluttered, soul-cluttered places. In a world that constantly roars, we need silence to be able to hear what is really worth hearing, so that we may grasp to listen.
We all know the story of God passing before Elijah: great winds, earthquakes, and fire that came and went; yet the Lord was in none of these. Then came a gentle breeze, and:
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Silence isn’t something to be feared, neither is it a path that leads to darkness: silence is a means through which we may encounter God – the God of Light. This not only takes time, it takes courage because God brings us to a confrontation with ourselves: “What are you doing here?”
Indeed, what are you doing here? That’s the question, isn’t it? Perhaps a scary question. No wonder we prefer noise and bustle and … well, anything other than experiencing that question from out of the silence. Yet, this is where silence can make sense of the noise, tame it – make it work for us, as Jesus made it work for Him.
“Despite Jesus’ plea that his miracles be kept secret the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16)
Perhaps that is the most terrifying part of silence. With Jesus, time spent in silence always led to more and more action. Listening to God led Jesus not to nice social theories, nor to utter words of warm comfort, but doing. I guess the same would apply to us.