Saturday, June 13, 2009

Silence is not just the absence of noise

We are told in Scripture to pray continually, that is, we are to be constantly aware of God's presence. Activity, work and and all the other distractions that surround us make that difficult. Keeping a Sabbath is one way [at least for those of us who aren't pastors] to break away from all that. Another problem is the constant noise that surrounds us — much of it chosen because of our unwillingness to exist without the television in the background, or music, or conversation. Albert Mohler reflects on an article especially lamenting the absence of silence in the lives of the young:
One of the most lamentable aspects of modern life is the disappearance of silence. Throughout most of human history, silence has been a part of life. Many individuals lived a significant portion of their lives in silence, working in solitude and untroubled by the intrusion of constant noise. ....

Our culture now assumes noise and the constant availability of music, electronic chatter, and entertainment. In many homes, there is virtually no silence — at least during waking hours. In some homes, family members live in isolated environments of independent sound, with iPods, televisions, radios, and any number of other technologies providing a customized experience of noise. ....

Writing in the June issue of Standpoint, Susan Hill argues that our children are being impoverished by being deprived of silence. We have betrayed children, she asserts, by "confiscating their silence." As she explains:
But so difficult has it become to find such oases of silence, that many children never experience it. In adapting to constant noise, we seem to have become afraid of silence. Why? Are we afraid of what we will discover when we come face to face with ourselves there? Perhaps there will be nothing but a great void, nothing within us, and nothing outside of us either. Terrifying. Let's drown our fears out with some noise, quickly.
As Susan Hill acknowledges, complete silence is very difficult to achieve. Her goal is not to see children experience an artificial silence, but instead to see children experience the natural sounds that come as gifts — sounds that require turning off the television to hear.

"Our children are too rarely given that opportunity or taught that the contrast between noise and quietness, like the parallel one between being in company and being alone, is vital to the growth and maturity of the individual," she explains. This growth and maturity, cultivated by silence, is essential to education — both of the mind and the soul. Reading, writing, analysis, and reflection require some level of silence. Many children, particularly teenagers, are shortchanging their education by developing a dependence on noise, even when studying (or what they call studying).

The life of the mind and the shaping of the soul require the ability to hear, recognize, and understand what would be lost in a cacophony of sound. She expresses this beautifully:
If children do not learn to focus and concentrate in a pool of quietness, their minds become fragmented and their temperaments irritable, their ability to absorb knowledge and sift it, grade it and evaluate it do not develop fully. Reading a book quietly, watching a raindrop slide slowly down a windowpane or a ladybird crawl up a leaf, trying to hear the sound of a cat breathing when it is asleep, asking strange questions, such as, "Where do all the colors go at night?" and speculating about the possible answers — all of these are best done in silence where the imagination can flourish and the intricate minutiae of the world around us can be examined with the greatest concentration.
Not to mention prayer, reading, study and meditation.

"Where Do All the Colors Go at Night?" -- Children and the Need for Silence

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