By Eugene C. Scott
My world is the opposite of Paul Simon’s poetic world in his famous song “Sound of Silence,”
“Fools, . . . you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows.”
Like you, I navigate a sound filled, often noisy, world. Airplanes, cars, horns, radios, televisions, iPods, and worse are ubiquitous. The cancer in my world is noise. Maybe that’s why silence unnerves me. Moments of silence are rare, longer interludes downright scarce. I’m not sure what to do with silence. Paul Simon had a point. One never knows what will grow unbidden from silence.
Silence Grows Accidentally
Like last Thursday morning. On my way to a meeting, I turned off my truck radio during a noisy, irritating commercial and in the ensuing accidental silence discovered something. There’s a lot going on–in and around us–that extraneous noise covers. In the first moments of this accidental silence, I began to listen to some of those things.
Silence Grows Old Memories and New Insights
The thump-a-thump-a-thump-a-thump-a of the seams in the concrete road beneath the tires of my truck struck a chord in me and, as if I had switched on an internal radio, I heard the rhythm of riding in my parents’ old Plymouth through Trinidad, Colorado, a small town with streets paved with bricks. The patter beneath our Plymouth that day told me a story. I remembered imagining workers, dressed in faded over-alls, sweat streaming down their tanned faces, laying paving bricks. Then I pictured carriages drawn by horses bumping over the newly laid bricks. History, though imagined, sprang to life for me.
As I drove radio-less to my meeting that Thursday morning, history sprang to life again, remembering my parents’ native home town, my family, whole and together, as I had not seen them in years. Then suddenly it dawned on me. I have long been a story teller, even if it’s a story told only in my own head. That silence confirmed who I am today. I realized this love of story that so possesses me now, lived in me back then. And here I was doing it again, retelling myself the story of being packed in that old car, traveling to my grandparents’ house.
That accidental silence allowed me to relive a very sweet memory and add interpretation to it. The noise of my life amplified and symbolized by my radio would have blocked both the memory and the insight silence provided.
Silence Grows Uncomfortable
Despite that I had numerous meetings and several errands to run, I decided to spend the entire day with the radio off. I listened. A delivery truck next to me rattled and rumbled as it started from the light. Cars zipped by. My key chain swung and clicked against the steering column. I sat at the next light and waited in an uncomfortable silence. Bored and without thinking, I reached for the radio power button. It had been maybe five minutes since I swore off noise. But I caught myself.
The rest of the day repeated this pattern: reaching for the radio, stopping, impatiently waiting for another memory or insight to make the silence worth it. None came.
Why am I doing this? I thought in a moment of dead silence.
Because Living Spiritually is about listening. And you can’t listen with all that noise filling your head, I answered.
And having a conversation with yourself is better how? I countered.
I had no one to distract me from my foibles and insecurities. I realized it’s much easier to listen to Rush Limbaugh blame politicians for my life rather than face myself. This may be what Paul Simon referred to in his song. Silence may not grow like cancer but it grows uncomfortable.
Silence Grows Deep
Sometime during the day, however, I became aware that I was noticing people, wondering who they were, what loads they carried, what their stories were. I remembered friends who had once lived in the part of the city I was driving through. I prayed for these people as they came to mind. I recorded several story-lines for my novel on my iPhone at stop lights. Future blog ideas formed. My mind filled up. The boredom I had previously fought off with radio noise disappeared. I was enjoying thinking and interacting with my world. I found my mind racing through a world of ideas and wonders. In that once accidental silence, I had become deeply and fully present to myself and my world.
Silence Grows Longer and Purposeful
I didn’t grow up in religious circles. So I was oblivious to religious holidays beyond the ones that had secular spokesmen like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But even after Jesus found me lost and alone sitting under a pine tree, the lesser holidays such as Lent rarely registered. Though I do remember a high school girlfriend who gave up coffee for Lent. I teased her and have never to this day given anything up for Lent.
That changed that Thursday of my accidental silence. By the end of the day, the idea of a longer silence had grown on me. I had become comfortable in it.
For Lent, why not give up extraneous noise and add purposeful silence? I asked myself silently.
I still think giving up coffee or chocolate or not wearing socks or not using your garage door opener for Lent is stupid. But I could come up with no good counter argument for this idea.
Today begins the holy season of Lent, a six week period of personal and congregational preparation for Christians to remember the sacrifice and new life Christ offers through it. As part of my experiment in living spiritually, I decided to participate in Lent for the first time by eliminating extraneous noise–radio and television. I am not just shutting off radio and television, however. I am adding, making room for, a purposeful, uncomfortable, deep, long silence.
Maybe, just maybe, I’ll hear something that will do more than mollify me, but change me. Maybe God will even speak in some way.
As a talker, Eugene C. Scott admires people who keep silent. Fortunately, since he is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church, people expect him to talk. And he’d love to hear how you plan to observe Lent or how you are faring with your spiritual living. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the Facebook page.