The Sound Of Silence

A bless’ed relief or an uncomfortable vacuum?

Back in 1964 the duo Simon and Garfunkel released the song The Sound Of Silence. It’s first verse went:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted
In my brain still remains
Within the sound of silence

Simon And Garfunkel – Sounds Of Silence Lyrics

When was the last time you could hear nothing at all, when your ears could detect no noise? I can remember a time, when for a few moments, for a reason I’ll give later, the only sound I could hear was was my own breathing. Most people have never experienced that degree of quietness.

Sometimes we might be in an environment where the only sound is natural, such as wind rustling leaves or birds singing. This is probably the closest most of us come to experiencing silence. Silence to the human ear is never absolute, so for the purpose of this article I define it as being as quiet as a human is possible to be.

Have you noticed how some people find silence uncomfortable, even oppressive if it is both silent and dark at the same time. There seems to be a need for sound, whatever sound it might be, whether it be of a voice, music or busyness by doing something. The actual source of the sound is irrelevant, it is just need for some noise.

For almost everyone, silence also usually means being alone which is as true today as it was for Jesus circa 2000 years ago. On various occasions, documented in The Bible, He deliberately sought out times and places of silence and solitude. He would use these rare moments to think, perhaps it might be said meditate, and pray which in itself can serve as a form of meditation in a dual purpose with prayer as well as talking to and listening to our Lord God. I think it was probably easier in his time to find quiet places to be alone. Today it is rare for anyone to seek out silence.

It was after I begun writing this article that the words of the song popped into my head, and in particular the first verse which I have quoted. In considering silence in combination with Jesus and God, that verse seems to me, as a Christian, to hold some significance. It might be interpreted as speaking to and listening for God, in prayer, though that is probably not what the writer intended. Its implied reference to dreams is used on numerous occasions in the Bible to express communication with God.

The most continuous and usually loudest sound today is man made, with the exception of rare events like earthquakes and volcano eruptions. These are loud but short lived and few-and-far-between. Humans make noise constantly, most obviously and continuously with our transport. Predominantly for most people, the motor car.

It is ironic that the only truly silent place, an anechoic chamber, is also man made. It was in one of these chambers that I briefly experienced total silence, only by holding my breath for a few seconds so that I did not even hear my own breathing. Some people who have been in one of these chambers on their own, claim to have heard their own heart beat. After quite a short period of time, the experience can become quite disquieting (pun intended), especially if the lights are turned off too.

That experience aside, I am quite comfortable in quiet places. I enjoy periods of silence when there is no distraction to my thoughts, or prayers. I know people though who say they can not even sleep if their environment is too quiet.

We seem to have lost the ‘art’ of stillness and quiet. We try to fill every moment. We are busy but what does this busyness achieve? Often nothing but a way to fill quiet time. When people meet, until they know each other well periods of silence between them can see awkward. Between good friends, they often do not feel the need to fill every moment with conversation.

Silence is a true friend who never betrays. – Confucius 

For another perspective on silence you might like to see Silence in the Midst of Digital Noise, on iBenidictines


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