By Sister Marcella Clancy
One of my special memories while camping in Colorado National Monument Park occurred when I was sitting alone on one of the towering rock’s rim. It was so absolutely quiet I was startled by the almost noiseless flapping of a bird’s wings. I don’t ordinarily find that kind of stillness in my life. Yet I wonder if we are the poorer without such silence, without such depth of quiet. Genesis speaks of Adam and Eve hearing “the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day”. But because they had sinned they hid from God. I question if today noise helps me hide from God and perhaps even from myself.
Years ago when I first entered religious life we incorporate some of the practices of monasticism into our daily lives. We held “Grand Silence” from after night prayer until after breakfast the following morning. We had hours during the day of “Sacred Silence”. As a novice in religious life, my focus was on not speaking but that was not the point. The point was not about “not talking” but rather about listening more deeply. Listening to the Sounds of Silence.
After Vatican II and the renewal of religious life, we no longer held those practices in common. The living out our relationship with God is unique and personal and each woman is responsible for integrating in her life those practices which will best help her on this journey. However, there are still remnants of the value of silence. When a sister is in retreat, we reverence that time and do not engage her in conversation. During retreats we offer a “silent” dining room where meals can be consumed in reflective quiet. The unspoken assumption is that silence enables one to be better available to God. “Sounds of Silence.”
I am fascinated by the enormous silence of nature. Seeds sprout in the earth, flowers bud, bloom, and blossom outward, the sun rises and sets sometimes with astounding beauty, the moon glows softly in the night, stars glimmer, puffy clouds glide overhead — all soundlessly. There is the roaring of the ocean, the boom of thunder, the patter of rain, the whispering of the wind, chirping of sparrows and calls of the loon, but even these sounds need from us a certain silence to be heard and more to be understood and reverenced. We need a quiet mind and heart to really appreciate them. “Sounds of Silence.”
There is no magic about silence. In fact to give someone “the silent treatment” can be cruel and carry its own kind of violence. Yet, I think for most of us, our experience of God is Silence. Even though Christians refer to God as Word and define Scripture as the “Word of God”, those who desire to plumb the depths of any holy writings admit theology, study, and research are inadequate. Eventually one needs to sit in silence until the word becomes broken open within the inner lining of one’s being. “Sounds of Silence.”
I believe that in creating us, God deposited in each of us a capacity to be contemplative, to gaze in silence and in stillness and recognize the sacred everywhere and in everything, even within ourselves, to experience the Divine Presence flowing gently yet determinedly evolving all into union, into fullness. God has given us God’s own Joyfulness and Gladness in the midst of our suffering and pain. “Sounds of Silence.”
The lyrics of the 1963 song, The Sound of Silence, written by Paul Simon, are rather haunting. You can find them, and listen to the song, here. A 2016 insightful address on Contemplation and Transformation given by Pat Farrell OSF, available on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) website, challenges us to contemplative silence as what is most needed in our day. She transparently tells of the experience of resistance and avoidance, the usual non-dramatic and emptiness felt, the inner demons that arise with the possibility for healing, if not rejected, and yet the occasional but certain depth knowing of God and the barely perceptible but assuredly slow transformation that occurs in silence. “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.”
Silence is not a vacuum. Silence is not a void. Silence is Sound. A sound of deeper awareness; a sound of my own inmost being; the sound of God walking in the garden of my own soul.
About the Author
Sister Marcella Clancy currently lives in the Detroit area. She offers spiritual direction, serves on Congregational committees, and companions one of our newer members. She loves long walks, good movies, and leisurely lunches with friends.