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Posted September 17, 2004

Silence: Its Meaning, Beauty and Power

Taken from The Promise of Virtue
by Eugene Hemrick

Silence comes from the Latin word, silens, meaning to be still, quiet, or at rest. Other words related to it are: calm, peace, serenity, tranquility, poise, composure, noiselessness, hush, and solitude. I his description of stillness, Romano Guardini cuts to its very essence: “Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life; the quiet at the depths of its hidden streams. It is a collected, total presence, a being ‘all there,’ receptive, alert, ready . . . It is when the soul abandons the restlessness of purposeful activity.”

Within this definition we learn silence’s first fundamental lesson: It is not so much a lack of sound as it is a cultivation of interior stillness.

When we closely examine one of silence’s synonyms, calmness, we get a better idea of why our present age yearns to cultivate it. In Greek, the word calm is karein, meaning “the heat of the day.” It signifies a resting place at high noon, a spot preferable placid, peaceful, and cool. Silence is pictured as a shelter protecting us against that which beats on our senses and breaks us down.

. . . . Let’s look at the beauty of silence. As with the rotation of a diamond, the more we rotate silence, the more we realize the many ways it can bring new light into our lives.

When we reflect on how many times we have seen a child totally engrossed in drawing, we get our first beautiful picture of silence. In this scene, silence is total absorption in something. There is a singular focus that steadies a person’s being and locks out distractions.

Here silence would say, “Picture the times you were engrossed in a novel you were reading, or a hobby you enjoyed. Do you remember how you were transported into another world? This is one of the centering powers you inherit when you practice me.

Two persons in love, blissfully gazing at each other, portray another profound quality of silence. In this form, it translates into contemplation, which enables two persons to enjoy an I-thou relationship with each other. It fosters intimate contact in which the whole being of one person absorbs the being of the other.

Here silence whispers to us, “Note how time stands still between two persons when they become still, contemplate each other, and truly experience the other. Note especially the way ecstasy and I go together.”

Some years ago while competing in a triathlon I learned how silence and physical strength complement each other under trying circumstances.

The first and most frightening event in a triathlon is a mile swim. It is a nerve-racking event in which you race with about fifty other swimmers who are constantly bumping into you or swimming over you in deep waters.

What made this particular triathlon especially scary was the roughness of the water. One minute I would see a group of swimmers, and the next they were lost to sight in high swells.

During our swim, a number of swimmers panicked and began calling for help to the lifeguards. I remember panic hitting me and how it began to unnerve me. I began to think that this is why a person can drown in a matter of minutes.

For some unknown reason I was able to go within myself and to talk to myself. Repeatedly I reminded myself, “Relax, relax, don’t fight the water but go with it.”

Suddenly an inner stillness came over me, and I began cutting through the water with new energy. Later when I reflected on those moments I realized the power stillness has in restoring our nerves and, consequently, our physical strength.

In cases like this, silence says, “Observe how the inner strength I generate is the real strength behind human strength. I am responsible for gathering together those inner powers that can help you overcome much. When you feel weakened and afraid, go off with me and allow me to restore the spirit within your strength.”

In Psalm 131 we read, “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

Silence in this psalm is portrayed as the inner peace and security of a child without a care in the world.