Silence Is Necessary – On Cultivating Silence in Our Soul

I suppose it goes without saying that we live in a very fast-paced, hectic, and noisy world.  We’re often in a big hurry to get somewhere. Stress is the norm and noise is all around us in the form of radios, televisions, iPods, etc. We’re plugged in but often tuned out. Very few of us live at the pace or volume of normal life.

So overstimulated are we that many literally cannot relax when it is quiet; silence unnerves them. I recently took an informal poll in a class I was teaching and  found that 40% of the students said they cannot fall asleep without a television or radio playing in the background. Many phones and clock-radios have a “sleep” function to allow them to play for a certain amount of time and then turn off (presumably after we have fallen asleep). We used to set our clock-radios to wake us up; now we use them to “soothe” us to sleep with their background noise.

Wow, that’s really overstimulated.

Silence is precious and is a necessary ingredient for the spiritual life. We do well to build as much of it as possible into our lives. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, in his tome The Three Ages of the Interior Life, writes of the need to minimize distractions and noise:

We must create silence in our soul; we must quiet our more or less inordinate passions in order to hear the interior Master, who speaks in a low voice as a friend to his friend. If we are habitually preoccupied with ourselves, seek ourselves in our work, in our study and exterior activity, how shall we delight in the sublime harmonies of the mysteries of the Blessed Trinity present in us? … The disorder and clamor of our senses must truly cease for a life of prayer. … they [must]  eventually become silent and submit with docility to the mind or the superior part of the soul (Vol 1, p. 455, Tan Publications).

Ask yourself if silence is a significant part of your day. Do you cultivate it? Many today struggle with prayer and other quieter activities like spiritual reading because they are overstimulated. Overstimulation leads to being easily bored, having a short attention span, and becoming anxious about silence or inactivity. This is a poisonous brew when it comes to prayer, which requires a certain love for silence, listening, patience, stillness, and restful attentiveness. Having the radio, television, or iPod going all day does not help our soul to hear the still, quiet voice of God.

Some of my quietest moments are my daily holy hour and then later in the day when I write these articles. I have come to cherish these quiet times when I listen to God and ponder His teachings. And then, having listened, I sit quietly again and compose these posts. I really could not write without silence; noise distracts my thoughts too much.

One year during Lent I realized that I had the radio on almost all day long in the background. I decided to turn it off and since then I’ve never gone back. I listen only briefly now, to hear the headlines, and then return to the quiet. I do not own a television. I do make use of Netflix, YouTube, and podcasts for selective viewing/listening of necessary and helpful material. Music, too, remains a joy for me, but not all day long, just on walks or when cleaning.

I only offer this personal testimony to suggest that if I, a former news junkie, could wean myself away, maybe others can too.

Our lives are hurried and noisy. Consider well Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s exhortation and build in silence through a growing mortification of the senses. Be very selective as to what you view/listen to, and how often you do so. Find time for silence; it is golden and necessary. I have that God is waiting there for us.

Here’s a beautiful hymn. I put the words in the first comment below:

And here is a noisy and truthful description of the problem:

17 Replies to “Silence Is Necessary – On Cultivating Silence in Our Soul”

  1. Here are the Verses to the Hymn:

    Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
    leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
    come into the daylight’s splendor,
    there with joy thy praises render
    unto him whose grace unbounded
    hath this wondrous banquet founded;
    high o’er all the heavens he reigneth,
    yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.

    Now I sink before thee lowly,
    filled with joy most deep and holy,
    as with trembling awe and wonder
    on thy mighty acts I ponder;
    how, by mystery surrounded,
    depths no man hath ever sounded,
    none may dare to pierce unbidden
    secrets that with thee are hidden.

    Sun, who all my life dost brighten;
    Light, who dost my soul enlighten;
    Joy, the sweetest man e’er knoweth;
    Fount, whence all my being floweth:
    at thy feet I cry, my Maker,
    let me a fit partaker
    of this blessed food from heaven,
    for our good, thy glory, given.

    Jesus, Bread of life, I pray thee,
    let me gladly here obey thee;
    never to my hurt invited,
    be thy love with love requited;
    from this banquet let me measure,
    Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
    through the gifts thou here dost give me,
    as thy guest in heaven receive me.

  2. This past Lent I decided I would stop watching T.V., and spend the time reading spiritual literature, or doing something more productive, even just sitting in the quiet of an evening and watching nature out my window. I also did not turn on a radio or music to fill the silence. After Lent I simply continued. I admit I do turn on the T.V. occasionally to see the weather or something, but mostly not.

    The absence has made me realize just how much T.V. had taken over my time and activities. No wonder so many things I want to do never get done, everything from cleaning out closets to researching my family tree. But more than that, I hear the quiet. And that has been so good.

  3. My hearing deficit has gradually been getting worse over the past five years. I was always having to ask people to repeat themselves so I got hearing aids about five years ago. They were both a blessing and a curse. Since purchasing them my hearing has gotten noticeably worse as evidenced when I am not wearing them. My son recently bought a Boston Terrier puppy with one blue eye and one brown eye. He is deaf as a door nail. I don’t know that silence is necessarily golden but it is becoming more easily obtainable.

  4. Be still and know that I AM GOD. Yup, the cacophonous noise that surrounds the modern man is so debilitating that our souls cannot enter in the inner sanctum of prayer. We are distracted by television, radio, gadgets, electronics and hedonist worldly satisfaction/pleasure and of the self indulgence of the material world. Our inner eyes are blind of the supernatural and our ears are deaf of the sweet music of the Word of GOD. With the explosion of information in this day and age, all the more we have become ignorant of the reason and purpose of life because we have filled our mind with the garbage of relativism. Let me go back to the basic of Love, Mercy and Grace that I may find YOU in the silence of my being, oh LORD. Let me find YOU in the gentle breeze of YOUR encompassing presence within me and in the embrace of my family and love ones. Let me hear YOU in the melodic voices of YOUR people in the Church as we glorify and receive YOU in the Holy Eucharist. ALLELUIA, AMEN!

  5. I have my quiet time in the morning when I study my Bible. I listen to spiritual videos on my computer while I stair climb for 35 minutes. I have a meditation timer I set for 30 minutes for my personal prayer time. During the daytime I listen to talk radio so I know what’s going on in the world. My husband and I watch an hour of TV before we go to bed at night. This balance works well for me.

  6. I like the quiet so much better. It used to frighten me, I would turn on a TV or radio because I was afraid any noise I heard was a person breaking into my home.

    Because not hearing them keeps it from happening? Uh, yea.

    So the moral of that is HAVE FAITH IN GOD and you won’t fear stupid things or do silly things to avoid real dangers.

    Noise as a companion is a lie of the devil.

  7. “. . . Augustine says (ad Probam, Ep. cxxx, 9): “Faith, hope and charity are by themselves a prayer of continual longing.” But prayer, considered in itself, cannot be continual, because we have to be busy about other works, and, as Augustine says (ad Probam. Ep. cxxx, 9), “we pray to God with our lips at certain intervals and seasons, in order to admonish ourselves by means of such like signs, to take note of the amount of our progress in that desire, and to arouse ourselves more eagerly to an increase thereof.” Now the quantity of a thing should be commensurate with its end, for instance the quantity of the dose should be commensurate with health. And so it is becoming that prayer should last long enough to arouse the fervor of the interior desire: and when it exceeds this measure, so that it cannot be continued any longer without causing weariness, it should be discontinued. Wherefore Augustine says (ad Probam. Ep. cxxx): “It is said that the brethren in Egypt make frequent but very short prayers, rapid ejaculations, as it were, lest that vigilant and erect attention which is so necessary in prayer slacken and languish, through the strain being prolonged. By so doing they make it sufficiently clear not only that this attention must not be forced if we are unable to keep it up, but also that if we are able to continue, it should not be broken off too soon.” And just as we must judge of this in private prayers by considering the attention of the person praying, so too, in public prayers we must judge of it by considering the devotion of the people.”–St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica > Second Part of the Second Part > Question 83>Article 14.

  8. This is one reason silence at Mass is sooo very precious! For most people, it’s their only opportunity all week to pray in a quiet atmosphere with Our Lord. When our children were small (we have six), my husband & I split-shifted Mass attendance. One day our pastor told me, “I come out for the 7:30 Mass & I see Sue sitting there, so peaceful & in deep prayer, & I know she needs this hour to make it through the week with the kids. I always smile.” Bringing little ones to Mass who can’t sit still because of their age is not beneficial for the kids or the parents. We desperately need all the grace we can get in order to be the best mom & dad we can be. I feel terrible for young parents today who are under the impression that they’re “bad parents” if they don’t bring their little ones to Mass. They won’t survive!

  9. A major heart break led me to appreciate silence. I don’t have an adoration chapel close by but drive to the nearest one when I have the time – best use of my time is being there with the Lord. If I ever become a millionaire, I’m getting one constructed for my parish 🙂

    Thank you for your blog, Monsignor! Thank you for your priesthood 🙂

  10. Thank you Monsignor. Your words fully resonate with me. I too have been able to break my addiction to noise, especially the noise of the news. And it included weaning myself off of multiple daily visits to news and sports websites. I have almost eliminated TV from my daily routine, and have substituted drive time radio with praying the rosary.. This has made a big difference in my life and enabled me to draw so much closer to God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who i need each day to enkindle the fire of my love. Yes, silence is a great blessing, and much more easily found for someone like me who is retired and without children in the house anymore. Deo Gratias.

  11. Worth noting? The Holy Father does not watch t.v. (or surf the internet!) He even knows the date he gave up watching! From a recent well-publicized interview: “I haven’t watched television since the year 1990 (he takes his time to answer). It’s a promise I made to Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the night of July 15, 1990. [For any particular reason?] No, no, I said to myself, “this isn’t for me.”

  12. Ahhh . . . the sacred silences at Mass. What is more profound and beautiful—-particularly after receiving Our Blessed Lord? Whenever our family is blessed to participate in a quiet, prayerful Mass, we are edified. Weekly Adoration quietens us interiorly as well.

  13. Two things in my experience support what you say. Firstly, as a teacher I latterly came across the experience of having some pupils ask if they could play music on their devices while working in class. They claimed that they worked better with music playing in their ears. I never accepted the claim. Secondly, as a teacher of politics and economics I had to keep myself informed about what was going on in the world. Watching the news and current affairs programmes on television and reading newspapers was a staple part of my life. Since retiring I have hardly ever read a newspaper and avoid watching television as much as possible. Instead, I read things like this blog. Not only more interesting but far more useful.

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