For God alone my soul waits in silence from him comes my salvation (Ps. 62:1)

We live in a world of noise, and it is almost impossible to break from the normalcy of noise. Our minds are loud and busy. Our hearts are tense and restless. Moreover, the cacophony of digital devices endlessly distracts us from taking ‘noise-breaks’.

Worse, the need for a warm embrace of silence in and through worship is hardly ever felt. The high-decibel thrills and emotional frills in worship are mere noise, to say the least. Where is ‘silence’ in our concert-like worship and high-pitched God-talk?

People find silence awkward, uneasy and scary. It is no surprise, then, that an intentional switching-off from a noisy world is now a lost art. Unfortunately, we have squandered our ability to appreciate ‘silence’ and that, to me, is our undoing.

Scientific evidence (not just religious traditions) suggests silence can positively influence our personal and spiritual lives. However, our minds are clogged with images, impressions and interpretations. Our hearts are crowded with people – places and things.

Silence as a kind of ‘retreat’ from everyday conversational activity seems to resonate with many traditions, religious or otherwise, across the world. In the Indian tradition, one remains silent for a chosen period, usually a whole day.

I agree that there is considerable value in such ‘religiously-inspired’ withdrawals from everyday conversations. Such routine practice enhances one’s attentive powers to look for simpler details that are otherwise overlooked. Moreover, the refrain from speech increases our sensitivity to the world around us.

But seeking silence is much more than withdrawing oneself from everyday conversations or activities. Such a routine may sharpen the focus of our search, but it is not enough to experience silence at its depths. Perhaps, the practice of silence requires spiritual discipline, for inner quietude is a sure gateway to God.

Silence is the absence of noise (undesirable elements). But it is not the absence of speech or sound. The chirping of birds, the rush of wind, the rustle of leaves, the patter of rain, and even the roar of the waves do not disturb devout silence. In reality, silence pervades all sound and speech.

Silence mystically pervades sound. Only the insertion of silence rescues our speech from a disastrous collapse of meaning. Without adequate and appropriate silence between our words and sentences, our speech is mere gibberish, nothing more than noise.

Beauty of Silence
Photo by Nicolas Mirguet on Flickr

More importantly, silence can be speech itself. But only when it is restful and healthy. Anger, animosity, bitterness, displeasure, and disapproval can be communicated in and through the absence of speech. Here, the absence of speech is not silence but noise, for the heart and mind are not restful edgy and uneasy.

However, Restful silence is profound in its speech. Feelings of comfort, assurance, attachment, love and intimacy can be communicated in and through silence (without speech or sound). Therefore, Restful silence should not be confused with ‘uncomfortable’ silence.

Silence, then, is not a demanding activity but a delightful experience. Restful silence makes a way of knowing possible – you see, hear and understand differently. More importantly, you experience the divine presence and enter into deeper communion with God. Understanding, knowledge and wisdom are gained without words.

A restful silence before God (or reverence for God) is the beginning of wisdom. It is in those moments of ‘self-reflection’ that we find who we are, who we belong to, and what is the true treasure we seek. We become aware of the depth of existence as we return to God.

Not surprisingly, the Christian tradition promotes silence that involves rest, reflection, and renewal. As you enter restful or healthy silence, every little experience is a small step toward absolute surrender in complete trust. We slowly begin to will one with divine Will even as we get lost and found in restful silence.

It is in restful silence that we uniquely experience inner quietude. Silence (and not noise) must invade our lives – our speech, relationships, work and worship. Silence helps us value Goodness, appreciate Beauty, and observe Truth.

Our life narratives are to be in poetry, but we are content to write in prose; Enter into ‘silence’ and discover a deeper connection with the Real, excellent and delightful bliss – God himself.

Restful silence is both a ‘longing’ and ‘belonging’. God calls us to restful silence, a bliss we can genuinely enjoy knowing the Silent one through the silence of our hearts and mind. Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10)

Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.