A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Silence and Sound

By Bridget Taumoepeau

A profoundly deaf person faithfully attends Mass in our parish every week. It makes me wonder what it must be like to be in a silent world all the time. It also caused me to reflect on the role of silence in my own life. Since being introduced to Ignatian spirituality and silent retreats, elective silence has become something I treasure. 

One of the advantages of silence is that one becomes so aware of other sounds that normally one might miss or ignore. Over the summer time I was able to spend the first hour of the day in the garden in what seems like a little grotto, sheltered by the branches of a tree. Each morning I would be joined by a thrush, who would make herself known by a gentle scratching sound as she fossicked amongst the leaves on the ground. If I stayed still, she would be there for some time quietly keeping me company. 

Years ago, when on retreat in Wales, I would walk to a point overlooking a distant motorway where I could hear the sound of traffic. Far from upsetting me it made me think of the distance that I had put between myself and the world, for those few days. The blessedness of silence and the opportunity to concentrate on my relationship with God, without distractions. Even the traffic sound did not intrude, as it was far away and of no consequence to me.

Later when I made the long Ignatian retreat, my husband was impressed that I would undertake a period of 30 days of silence. He remarked that it was ‘fuoloa tapui ke leā’ (a long time to be forbidden to speak). But it was not forbidden, ‘ko eku fili ke u tapu lea’ (It was my choice not to speak.)

Mother Teresa wrote extensively on silence, including reminding us that “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

There is beauty too in sounds; sounds that we cherish – the voice of loved ones; the laughter of children; music and song; the sound of the sea. So, like so many things in life, it is the balance between silence and sound that is precious. Creating that balance, which will probably mean increasing the periods of silence, is a task to be embraced, as it brings us closer to God.

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