An Encouraging Word – The therapeutic value of silence

Father J. Ronald Knott
Father J. Ronald Knott

The wise remain silent till the right time comes. Whoever talks too much is detested. Sirach 20:7-8

I love long periods of silence. When I find opportunities for silence, I embrace them like one would old friends. In fact, I believe I would go stark raving mad if I could not manage to carve out a few blocks of quality time each day for silence.

I appreciate the earthy wisdom of Will Rogers, who said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

I may go mad anyway because it is becoming a daily chore to carve out even a few minutes of silence in our noisy world.

When I look around, it seems that so many are obsessed with making sure the air is filled with noise, and treat silence as if it were some kind of deadly virus that needs to be overpowered, conquered and even wiped out if possible.

For me, poet-artist Jean Arp nailed it: “Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence.

Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation … tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding and trilling bolster his ego.

His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.”

Before you conclude that I am a certifiable “nut case,” let me tell you about a couple of new start-up businesses that I read about recently that are directed toward people in need of a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Breather offers rentable rooms by the hour, promising “peace and quiet” on demand. The Container Store offers a “privacy bag,” a collapsible shield that you put on over your head, a fabric cocoon in which to encase yourself, to “get away from it all.”

What does it say about the world that there’s money to be made in giving people a few minutes to hear themselves think?

It’s sad to think that we are getting to the point that we have to buy micro-breaks from real life.

The hunger for a little peace and quiet is real enough: the yearning for a protected zone, free not simply from outside interruptions, but from all the ways we’ve devised, using technology to distract ourselves; the interruptions we invite.

In reality, more and more people are uncomfortable with silence. We have all experienced those uncomfortable and off-putting long silences in a conversation.

Most priests know better than to extend that quiet time after Communion for too long. Many take pains to avoid these gaps whenever possible by filling them with “small talk” or even “closing prayers” as an escape from awkward pauses as if not saying something is a sin of some sort.

In a world where platforms for expressing every opinion or thought that comes to mind is available at the touch of a button, maybe the Dalai Lama is right: “Silence is sometimes the best answer.”

Fr. J. Ronald Knott


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