On silence

Although we are tempted in times of agonizing silence to think of God with an icy stare on his face, refusing to make eye contact, I have found it comforting to think of God simply sitting with us in our pain, quietly listening. Maybe what feels like awkward and anxious silences to us are actually full and gentle silences. We are reminded that listening is not inaction. When God is listening to us, even if we do not experience the results we hope for, he is actively disposed toward us… (Adam S. McHugh)

At first when I came upon these sentences in The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World Of Distraction, I liked them. I don’t picture an “icy stare” so much as an unsmiling countenance and hands folded across God’s chest — as if he’s saying, “You work it out.” The idea of companionable and compassionate silence is much better.

Yet… sooner or later, we need a response, don’t we? Even the best of friends do not fail to respond eventually with a word. Silence is great for a time, but not for too long.

Maybe the problem is that an eternal God’s concept of “too long” differs radically from mine.

Nevertheless, I have grown skeptical, almost cynical, of what sound like rationalizations of what McHugh later calls “the dark night of the senses. The ‘sense’ of God’s presence has all but disappeared… What was once a raging love affair becomes a lukewarm marriage, a couple sitting at a nice restaurant on their anniversary with nothing to say.”

If the married couple never do find anything to say — if the silence goes on for too long — it stops being a marriage. Conversation is one strong thread tying two people together. Same with God.

This is not doubt speaking. Not anymore. I have noticed that no matter how difficult life may be, or how “hopeless” the outlook may seem, I wake in the morning with hope. I believe that God is at work. I trust him to provide and care for us. I recognize this perspective as a fruit of my Christian faith.

The question is not, for me, whether God is there. The question is why we so often speculate and explain away his quietness. Wouldn’t it be something closer to wisdom to fall silent ourselves when we are tempted to offer such explanations of a phenomena we really do not understand?

We are exhorted to “pray without ceasing” because God wants to hear from us. And we want to hear from God. It goes both ways.