During Advent my congregation explored silence, as this was the 100th
anniversary of the Christmas Carol Silent Night. At the beginning of this year I
visited an audiologist and learned that I have “mild to moderate” hearing loss, (not
unusual for someone “my age” apparently). And during the month of February my
congregation is following the theme “Lift Every Voice,” looking at race, privilege
and faith in worship and adult education.
All of this has made me think about silence, hearing and speech. Silence as a way of getting closer to God is a spiritual practice in many traditions: Christian, Jewish
The Christian practice of centering prayer is defined as “… a method of silent
prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which
we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than
thinking, closer than consciousness itself.” Silent prayer.
Sara Maitland, in A Book of Silence, describes her search for silence, a search that
takes her to the Sinai, to the Isle of Skye, to the hills in Scotland. Silence and
solitude. It’s easy to forget how noisy modern life is, how many ways there are to
seek silence and how hard true silence is to find.
Silence and hearing. What do we find in the silence, and what do we not hear
because we can’t hear?
I now wear hearing aids. As soon as I put them on, sounds were, well, crisper. My
wife also has hearing aids, and recently, after we were at a Super Bowl party, she
asked me if I could hear the conversation between two of our friends. I said I
could; she wondered if we were eavesdropping. I told her that I would bet that
before we wore hearing aids, before our “mild to moderate” hearing loss, we would
have probably heard that conversation and thought nothing of it.
I have a years long meditation practice but until last year I didn’t sit every day.
Last year I committed to sit every day and I did. Ten minutes every day. Not to
empty my mind but to sit in silence. To meditate on the words of the psalmist: “Be
still and know that I am God. “Psalm 46:10 And what did I hope to hear in the
silence? Nothing. What do I feel in the silence? The presence of God. Not every
time I sit. But often when I sit.
What has changed in me because I sit in silence? I think I “hear” better, more
deeply. Not only with my ears, thanks to my new hearing aids, but with my heart. I
think sitting in silence for ten minutes a day has made me a kinder, more
compassionate person. You’d have to ask those around me if that’s true, and
maybe the change is so small as to not be noticeable to anyone but me, but that’s
what the sound of silence has done for me.
Finally, what about speech? “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can
listen twice as much as we speak” Epictetus supposedly said. Sitting in silence has
taught me that the voice that needs to be lifted up isn’t always mine. Often isn’t
I hope you find silence amid the noise of your life, so that you might hear the
sound of silence.
May it be so. Amen.
Connie Knapp is a Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown and a
participant in the Commissioned Ruling Elders program of the Hudson River
Presbytery. She is serving as Moderator-Elect of the Hudson River Presbytery