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Silence and Balance

Looking at the place of silence in our lives, we notice that silence is often forgotten, ignored, or under-valued. By coming to live silence intentionally, we allow ourselves to delve into other communication areas and become more balanced people. A sailboat needs a ballast, a heavy weight at the center of the boat, to alance. We can see that silence serves in our lives a little bit like that ballast. And people who do not have silence in their lives tend to lose their balance. By living silence well, we become balanced people and grow in our interior peace.

Do you ever feel that you don’t know what to say? Or that you have said too much? Communication is a basic activity of all human beings, but we are very good at messing it up. We have all stuck our foot in our mouths at some point. We have said things that “we didn’t want to say.” We can learn to think before we speak. We could benefit from reflecting on the value of silence in our life.

Every year, the Vatican celebrates World Communications Day by sending a message from the Holy Father. The Pope takes this opportunity to reflect on some aspect of communication related to modern life, normally relating it as well to some aspect of evangelization.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the importance of silence. I find this interesting, as silence is an important part of spiritual life and I am intrigued to find out what we can learn from the Holy Father’s words. The reflection title is “Silence and Word: Paths of Evangelization” and can be found on the Vatican website at Pope's Message to 46th World Communication Day.

1. Learning to balance

Silence and word are “two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved.” Silence is a part of every conversation. Without pauses in the conversation, understanding is challenging. I don’t know if you have ever been in a conversation without any pauses. I remember visiting an old married couple once in the south of Germany. They both spoke nonstop. I almost got the impression that they wanted visitors to have somebody to listen to them. I cannot remember much of the conversation, as they were constantly speaking over each other. Even from a practical point of view, silence is necessary for comprehension.

Silence and word dance with each other as well in the liturgy. Mass is not a series of words to be recited. There are pauses and times given to silence. This gives us time to contemplate the mystery of what is occurring. The words of the priest at consecration are performative. They make happen what they proclaim. But they are followed by a silence that allows us to contemplate the mystery.

2. Learning to pause

“Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” Silence is part of a conversation, part of communication. When we sit down at a coffee shop to speak to somebody, the silence punctuates our conversation. It allows us to have a meaningful meeting. We are trying to get to know one another or enjoy each other’s presence. We need moments of silence to appreciate the person and not get lost in the noise.

It is interesting to interject meaningful silences into our day-to-day conversation. They speak to us of seriousness and depth. A person who is never able to keep silent would seem to communicate a shallowness of character. Words fly around cheaply, but silence is hard-won by reflection.

3. Learning to listen

“Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak.” Just as we listen to others, we learn to listen to God. So many people complain that God does not speak to them in prayer. Perhaps, they do not have space in their lives that allows God to interject.

We need more space for silence in our lives if we are going to learn to listen. Listening means waiting. We are an impatient society. I know that I am very impatient. I enjoy a constant flux of information. I have to slow down if I am going to listen. Silence helps a lot to ensure this waiting.

Take a moment today to see what role silence plays in your life. Think about your communication, as well. We all communicate through varied means. We have social media, friends, business associates, etc. How often do we think about what we communicate and how we communicate? It is helpful to reflect each year from the Pope that helps us deepen in some aspect of our communication.

Questions for reflection

1. Are you afraid of silence? Do you enjoy silence? Do you have regular moments of silence in your day?

2. How well do you listen? Do others recognize you as a good listener?

3. Is there a balance in your life? How could silence help you to achieve more balance?

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