Silence is the World’s Common Language

Many years ago I did a weeklong retreat at the Taize Community in southern France.  Known for its captivating chants, the ecumenical monastic compound attracts thousands of people each week from all over the world. The community hosts three services a day, mostly featuring their soul-connecting chants, sung in almost as many languages as the nationalities that are represented.  In each service, there is a full ten minutes of silence.  Thousands of people, including squirming babies and unruly kids, are silent.

After three days of participating in the rhythm of Taize, I had an insight:  silence is the world’s common language. The silence brought the entire gathering into a solidarity of practice.  And into a connection with one another.   The silence generated community — and an understanding and appreciation of one another that could not be explained.  And could easily be broken.

I have been reminded of that insight this week as I backpack across the Highlands of Scotland with my friend and college classmate David Brown.    This is his fifth crossing, and my first.  What I notice, besides my aching feet, is the stark beauty of all these bare mountains (there are 280 over 3,000 feet in the Scottish Highlands).  And what I drink in is the silence.  There is virtually no human population in the many glens that form this landscape, and except for the occasional bleating of the ever present sheep and the whoosh of the wind, there is silence.  The silence invites me to move past my usually engaged ego into the mysteries of the soul.

Most of us live in a world that is filled with noise, the volume of which has ramped up these last few years with increasing polarization.  I once read that people in America receive, on average, a thousand messages a day — from some electronic device, telling us that our bodies need to be a different shape, that our hair should be a different color, that we should buy this car or that medication; that we should vote for this person, and by no means vote for another person.  These messages may not have audio, but it is still noise.  And we can say that we don’t pay attention, but at some deep level we do.  They engage our egos — our wants and our desires, our fears and our loathings.

I remember leading a group of people who were intensely divided over an issue that was, for them, of immediate significant importance.  The arguments on both sides became more fierce and biting, and worried that name-calling was the next step someone would take, I suggested that the group spend some time in silence.  They hesitantly agreed.

The silence didn’t solve the issue, nor resolve it.  But it did lower the temperature, and enabled people to get beyond their ego-driven arguments to their shared humanity.   And reminded those in the group that they had a human connection to one another.

Silence has a unique language that we would do well to practice.

Recent Posts

Changing the Gun Culture

Changing the Gun Culture

America is awash in guns.  With a little over 4 percent of the world’s population, Americans own 42 percent of the world’s guns.  Gun purchases across the country have skyrocketed.  Restrictions on the carrying and permitting of firearms have eased in many states;...

Election REsults:  Stalemate or Opportunity

Election REsults: Stalemate or Opportunity

The mid-term election results are almost all in.  The Democrats have a slight majority in the Senate, and it looks as though the Republicans will have a slim majority in the House.  Some will say this represents a balance of power; other would argue that it is a...

A Response to the Midterms and Fear

A Response to the Midterms and Fear

I carried a lot of fear into a recently completed five-day canoe trip in the Florida Everglades. Particularly of alligators and pythons, which reportedly lurked throughout the endless mangrove wilderness. Thankfully, they never showed up. The anticipatory fear...

More Guns: A Manifestation of the ‘I’ Culture

More Guns: A Manifestation of the ‘I’ Culture

In half the states in America, it is now legal to openly carry a handgun, without getting a permit or receiving any training.  The New York Times reported on October 26 that the law in Texas, which went into effect in September, 2021, is making law enforcement...

Changing the Gun Culture

America is awash in guns.  With a little over 4 percent of the world’s population, Americans own 42 percent of the world’s guns.  Gun purchases across the country have skyrocketed.  Restrictions on the carrying and permitting of firearms have eased in many states;...

Our Framing Stories: How They Can Free Us or – As In the Club Q Shooting, Can Demonize Us

We are framed by stories.  Our values, horizons and purpose are shaped by the stories that we have heard, read and absorbed.  Some of those stories are constructed – and refracted, to reinforce prejudices and resentments.  While we don’t yet know for sure if the...

Election REsults: Stalemate or Opportunity

The mid-term election results are almost all in.  The Democrats have a slight majority in the Senate, and it looks as though the Republicans will have a slim majority in the House.  Some will say this represents a balance of power; other would argue that it is a...

A Response to the Midterms and Fear

I carried a lot of fear into a recently completed five-day canoe trip in the Florida Everglades. Particularly of alligators and pythons, which reportedly lurked throughout the endless mangrove wilderness. Thankfully, they never showed up. The anticipatory fear...

More Guns: A Manifestation of the ‘I’ Culture

In half the states in America, it is now legal to openly carry a handgun, without getting a permit or receiving any training.  The New York Times reported on October 26 that the law in Texas, which went into effect in September, 2021, is making law enforcement...

Surrendering Into a Portal

Last week, while driving on a highway in the pouring rain, my car spun out of control as I took a turn.  I went around a couple of times and hit the left side retaining wall with my front end.  The collision knocked the car back onto the highway and pointed me...

Invitation to Humility

As our airwaves and platforms are saturated with requests, threats and predictions over the upcoming midterm elections, the unrelenting messaging machines generate visceral reactions, to be sure, but also – maybe, some personal reflection, if not introspection.  What...

Scapegoats, Ego, Soul and Mandorla

In the early rituals of Yom Kippur, (which the Jewish family observed last week on October 5) a goat was presented to the high priest in the holy of holies.  On the goat’s flanks were written the sins of the community – all sorts of scurrilous and cruel thoughts and...

The Importance of Honest and Vulnerable Stories

Our lives are framed by stories.  Stories that we read, hear and see; and stories that we tell – about what we know, what we see, and what we feel.  Yet increasingly over the last several years stories have come under intense scrutiny. In more and more cases, stories...

Religion in the World: A Challenge and an Opportunity

When religion ventures out of its traditional worship space, controversy inevitably ensues. We have seen that recently in Iran where the morality (read religious) police arrested 22 year old Mahsa Amini because her hair was not properly hidden under her hijab. She...
Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!