Tuesday, 25 February 2014

the absence of silence

 "Timely silence, then, is precious, for it is nothing less than the mother of the wisest thoughts." ( Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence p. 45) 

I've written very little lately.  For someone who loves to write, the pages of my journal and this blog have been conspicuously empty.  Volumes of thoughts, ideas, and questions are reverberating within, but somehow I'm not sure that my words matter much right now. Instead, I've been craving silence. Though I confess, I'm not sure I even know what silence is.   

I recently began reading Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart, Connecting to God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence.  The bold words on the back cover say "Ancient spiritual wisdom to 
heal our troubled modern souls." Nouwen writes that "in this chatty society, silence has become a very fearful thing.  For most people, silence creates itchiness and nervousness.  Many experience silence not as full and rich, but as empty and hollow.  For them silence is like a gaping abyss which can swallow them up." (p.52)

I can't help but wonder if our propensity for words has more to do with the fear of silence than the longing for wisdom.  Is it possible that the more we say, the less we think?  The more words we fill ourselves with (in a frenetic fast-food sort of way), the less we actually distill and digest?  Could it be that our souls are becoming malnourished even as we continue to feed?

I have felt bombarded by words lately --a strange confession from someone who usually loves words.  Snippets of words seem to be coming from every direction, all clamouring for my already chronically divided attention.  There are words in texts, blogs, books, pod casts, voice mails, team-snap reminders, magazines, tweets, facebook, and e-mails and they are all firing at once especially when I'm trying to have a good, old-fashioned phone call or a face-to-face conversation.
It makes no difference whether I'm soaking in the bath, sitting with my family at the dinner table, waiting in line at the coffee shop, or half asleep in bed, there are plenty of bells and beeps and blings reminding me that WORDS are waiting, personal and impersonal alike.

What do we do with the vast deluge of words that inundate our daily lives?  How do we discern which ones are worth our precious time and attention?  I'm not talking about the inane stuff that we filter out right away (highlight and delete 20 or 30 messages) or the boring but necessary stuff of our day to day living.  I'm talking about the really great stuff: the text or e-mail from a friend, the hilarious or heart-warming story that will "only take a few minutes of our time," the multi-media presentation educating us on the plights of others, the podcast that is thought-provoking (assuming people still take time to think), the book that is an absolute must-read, the regular blog of a favourite author, and hey, there's always the Holy Bible (is it politically correct to call it that anymore??) --we could even crack it open and quickly pick a few inspiring words to consume on the run.  (I shutter, even as I type, to think how alarmingly close I have come to treating the life-breathed Word that is central to my faith as just another quick hit of "feel-good" that I can use on demand, whenever I need it.)   

I don't mean to be overly harsh here, but I wonder if the sheer volume of words available to us has rendered them less meaningful in the grand scheme of things?  

It wasn't long ago that I had to wait eagerly for the next book release in order to read new words from a favourite author.  But waiting is a thing of the past, isn't it?  Unless, of course, I count waiting until coffee break when I can finally snag a moment to click on the author's blog and read today's words hot off the press.  And with a few more clicks of the finger, I can follow a multitude of links introducing me to three or twenty other sites that have something to say on the matter.   

I can read, browse, surf, and peruse more, and yet process, integrate and grapple less.  I can take in a surplus of words and still end up with a deficit of wisdom and understanding. I can consume until I am crammed and utterly filled with the ideas of others and not have had one original thought of my own.  

Can it be any other way as long as I am a stranger to silence? Where else but in silence, can a thought find soil in which to germinate and grow until it brings forth life?

I guess I'm beginning to wonder if less really is more when it comes to words -- even the really good stuff?

words  and images (unless cited otherwise) © copyright Melody Armstrong 2014