Dear Pope Francis,
It snowed this week where I live. Just two or so centimetres, but we don’t get snow here that often, and it’s always an event when the white stuff falls.
As the snow fell, one of the first things I noticed — when I wasn’t preoccupied by thoughts of when it would be most efficient to go out and shovel my driveway and walk — was the silence. Fewer cars were on the road and the noise from those that were was muffled. There was the odd sound of a sliding vehicle or a revving engine warming up, but, aside from that, it was pretty darn quiet.
I thought about how that silence was so noticeable, and realized it said a lot about my life. Logically, I would think noise would be what drew my attention, not the lack of it. Instead, silence was a unique event.
Maybe I just live in a noisier than normal neighbourhood, but I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, as I look more carefully, I can see that I’ve made my life far too noisy all on my own.
I’ve realized that I rarely let myself be in silence. From waking up to going to sleep, I immerse myself in noise. One of my first actions in the morning is to blindly reach out to my nightstand and feel around for my phone, to check my email. Then I might check Facebook and Twitter, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything while I’ve been self-indulgently sleeping. I get up and do my morning things. Then I make breakfast and coffee, usually consuming them in front of my computer. The next hours are filled with emails and phone calls. I try to get out for a walk, but I almost always have my headphones on, with music or an audiobook accompanying me. At night, I’ll eat dinner in front of the TV, while also checking social media. Sometimes, I have to rewind a scene in a show several times because I am focused more on what’s happening on Twitter than the TV. I go to bed, try to read, but almost always give in to the siren call of my smartphone screen to engage online some more. I even fall asleep to the BBC, the news of the world pouring into my brain.
Just writing this down makes me uneasy because it shows how noisy I’ve let my daily routines become. I’m no longer in right relationship with silence. It didn’t happen overnight; I gradually fell into this pattern over many years. Looking at it objectively, I think I’ve become addicted to noise, both internal and external. Noise, for me, is numbing; when it’s noisy I don’t have to think about uncomfortable things, or face difficult choices. I just turn on the TV and it all goes away. But it doesn’t. Not really. It just adds to the background, well, noise.
There’s also something else I’m crowding out with all that noise — my relationship with the Divine. Where in my routine day have I built in time for prayer, of any kind? Never mind 20 minutes or so dedicated to mindfulness or centering prayer, I’ve ensured I can cruise through the day on a mental autopilot, without attention or intentionality. In all that chatter, there’s no dialogue happening with God. I’m too busy plugging my ears and screaming “nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you!”
I have a choice in all of this. I could continue living in noise, and I might do OK. I’ll be anxious, but I won’t miss anything that’s going on, or so I’ll tell myself.
Or, I could put my fears aside and embrace silence, a little more each day. Maybe I’ll start with 30 seconds, of just sitting still. I’ll try not to plan, or worry, or think, or write blog posts in my head, or check Twitter, or make a witty comment on Facebook. I’ll just be. Baby steps.
I’ll remind myself that the Divine is with me in every moment, and I’ll embrace the Beloved for just half a minute. I’ll probably manage only a nanosecond, but it will be a truly silent nanosecond.
The noise, of course, will start up again, but maybe I’ll try 45 seconds the next time, and then a full minute. And maybe, just as I’ve let noise creep in over time, a companionable silence held in the Divine will come to shape my days.
I know it seems odd to end a blog about silence with music, but this Peter Mayer song always stills me. Proving, I guess, that there’s noise, and then there’s sound that leads to silence.
(If this doesn’t play for you, go here.)