Over the past few days I’ve been watching the documentary The Wonderful, about several of the men and women who have completed missions on the International Space Station. It’s an excellent example of storytelling, against a background of really spectacular videography. Every interview is a feast for the eyes and a movement of the heart—especially to anyone who sees the hand of the Creator—and Father—in the startlingly clear and visually stunning sights.
One of the astronauts commented on the silence of space. Inside the station there’s plenty of sound from the instrumentation providing life support and the work to be done. But when you step outside, into the vacuum, the only sound is the soft hum of the fan just behind your head, circulating the air, and any communication that may come over the radios. And, I suppose, your own breathing. You can beat two pieces of metal together out there, and you won’t hear a thing.
Silence is a gift, one we accept and delight in all too infrequently.
I remember camping sessions with my Dad in various wilderness areas in the Pacific Northwest, or in Maine’s Allagash, or in Ontario’s LaVerendrye Provincial Park: setting up the tent on a flat spot near the river, catching rainbow or brook trout, and cooking them over the fire, wrapped in foil with a strip of bacon on each side.
One of the best parts of that experience is just sitting quietly and listening. Sometimes there’s nothing but the flow of the river—where “a noise of many waters brims the night”—but if you listen carefully, you’ll hear bird calls—and be able to identify them with practice—and the rustling of leaves and the snapping of twigs by some life form or other off in the brush. Sometimes there’s wind—as I recall from an unforgettable experience on a ridge overlooking Hout Bay, South Africa, at Silvermine. (Thanks, Eric.)
There’s something healthy, re-energizing, rejuvenating, about sitting in silence.
We live in a noisy world. At baseball games, the DJ feels the need to fill the air with obnoxious music whenever there’s a break in the action. In stores and elevators, there’s Muzak constantly playing. Many people have developed the habit of having the radio, or some other noise-generating device, turned on all the time—at home, at the gym, in the car, in their earbuds.
If silence is rejuvenating, what do you suppose is the effect of constant noise?
I don’t spend a lot of the time in the car—my commute is 5 minutes—but I’ve developed the practice of leaving the radio off. Particularly talk radio. Those hosts make their living by intentionally stirring you up, making every meaningless thing a Crisis, driving, constantly driving, for response and thus ratings. Always angry, always bitter, always inciting fear by leaving out any facts that might interfere with their mission.
I’m not going to let them decide what I think.
I choose health. I choose peace. I choose silence.
I’ve found that in that brief silence I do some of my best thinking—second only to the shower. If I could figure out a way to have warm water rushing over me in the car, the quality of thinking there might be just as good.
The Bible confirms the benefits of silence.
- The wisest man in the world, reflecting on the experiences of his life, wrote, “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools” (Ec 9.17). Now, he’s commending the wisdom more than the quietness, but he makes a point. We all know—I hope—someone who speaks rarely and softly but to great profit, and often because he’s spent time thinking quietly before speaking.
- David, who from his shepherding days knew a little something about sitting quietly for long periods of time, wrote, “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent” (Ps 4.4).
- Perhaps the most well-known biblical comment on the subject comes from the Korahites, key contributors to the music program in Solomon’s Temple: “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth” (Ps 46.10).
So, what do we do with the silence? More to come.