On the hunt for biblical sound of sheer silence
Catholic Thoughts–By Jeanne Hunt
Is your world overcome with noise? There seems to be nowhere to get away from the constant harangue of music, talk, motors, humming machines, etc. Recently, I was reading 1 Kings 19:9–16 (NRSV), and the term the sound of sheer silence was used to describe the time when Elijah heard the voice of God (19:12). The Hebrew words are qol damamah daqqah, which can mean sheer silence, a whisper, or a gentle wind. It made me realize the absence of sheer silence in our lives. Even that morning as I read that Scripture sitting on my deck, it was anything but sheer silence: the birds were tweeting their morning praise, a train roared in the distance, and traffic hummed by on the highway at the edge of the woods.
Our lives are never without noise it seems. And that is not good for the wellbeing of our souls, not to mention our minds and bodies. Human beings need silence to thrive. It provides that time apart when all the distractions drain away and peace can restore our weary beings. It truly allows that small divine voice to be heard. So, where does someone who wants to hear God’s voice have to go to find sheer silence?
I challenged myself to hunt down sheer silence. It was a difficult task. We seem to choose noise and gravitate toward it. Where is there no talk, no rat-a-tat-tat, no boom? Here are three oases that I discovered: I got the first hint from the Louis Armstrong rendition of the song, “It’s a Wonderful World.” He sings of “the dark sacred night.” When we drive out into the dark of a country road, we can discover that sacred night. There are no city lights, just the starry night sky. The farm fields and homes are silent. Nothing moves. All is still. Yes, if we quiet our souls and wait, there seems to be a presence, a whispering word that comes to us. In the profound simplicity, someone is there and will speak, if we can listen. It really is sacred darkness.
Then, I went to church. We would expect that to be a sheer silence site, but my parish was real noisy that Sunday morning. Chatter, creaky floor boards, and music filled our worship space. So, I came back on an afternoon to the empty house after the banquet was over. And, there it was again, dead air, soft stillness. Not even the street noise dared to venture in. He was waiting this time; as soon as I sat down, the gentle wind stirred and God sang.
My last attempt followed the recommendation in Scripture: “enter into your closet” (Matthew 6:6). We need to look for that sacred silence right under our very noses. It feels a bit foolish, but I invite you to find a closet deep within the interior of your home and go inside. There, again, is that good quiet. It is like entering the heart of God. We can step out of the busy, noisy world and into something out of this world. How divinely foolish it is! Grown people hiding out in closets to listen to God! I won’t tell anybody what you are up to if you won’t tell on me.
I wonder why we don’t seek out sheer silence more often. It is not difficult and is like a balm that heals our wounds. Ten minutes in the stillness and we are refreshed. Is it because noise is a toxic addiction? Noise helps us not to think, not to face truth, not to deal with change. Never stopping to hear the voice of truth, wisdom, and direction keeps us from facing what needs to be done. Sheer silence brings a beautiful gift for those brave enough to walk into it: comfort and a peace beyond all understanding.