In recent years, I have twice been blessed to be able to walk a long portion of the thousand-year-old pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago in Spain. Part of the Camino’s mystique is that it forces one to experience silence. While its pilgrims have plenty of time to converse with their walking companions, few can (or want to) speak to them for ten hours a day, many days in a row. So there tends to be a lot of quiet time. Despite the rigor of the trip and my two previous experiences, I plan on going again, mainly to enjoy the Camino’s opportunity for silence and reflection.
Two weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about three consequences of our digitally obsessed and perpetually connected culture. I mentioned that the constant notifications and digital noise that permeates our everyday life increases our stress and decreases our time for self-reflection. You may have heard Henry David Thoreau’s famous maxim that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I’m tempted to think that if Thoreau were alive today, he would say, “most people lead lives of noisy desperation.” Too many of us feel as if we are on a perpetual treadmill of the daily grind, with no rest in sight. Regardless of how “gritty” and “tough” we may be, none of us are built to sustain such high “RPMs” for an elongated time. The human brain—and spirit—can only take in so much noise without a break, and I think our culture is fast approaching its saturation point (and likely has already passed it).
The Trend Towards Silence
The 2014 documentary In Pursuit of Silence explores the effect of noise in our lives and the beauty of silence.
Other cultural voices have arisen calling us to protect and nourish periods of intentional silence. A recent article in The Guardianoutlines some of these efforts, ranging from the predictable (meditation meet-ups) to the unusual (silent speed-dating). As its author notes:
Silence can … mean different things to different people. It can be a space for quiet reflection or a state fraught with discomfort. There is a certain intimacy inherent in being silent with other people—we usually do so only with those closest to us. So there is something almost radical about the recent trend for enjoying silence with strangers.
A recent Fortune article referred to silence as the “new luxury travel trend,” in which the ultra-wealthy pay premiums to escape from everyday life. Reiterating this trend, the Catholic blog Aleteia recently profiled one of these luxury destinations:
Called Eremito, the hotel emphasizes silence in a monastic sort of way—no WiFi, no phones, no TVs, no minibars. Guests are invited to pray the Liturgy of the Office, listen to Gregorian chant, or take long walks in the property’s 7,500 acres of natural reserved. The rooms are even referred to as “cells” (celluzze) for just one person, so couples reserve two. The room rates aren’t monastic, of course; Eremito’s guests pay a premium for peace.
The trend isn’t limited to the noise we hear aurally—it has even touches on images. How can someone capture silence in an image?A videoreleased by Getty Images outlines search trends in the past year. The use of search keywords such as “simplicity,” “space,” and “minimalism” has almost doubled this past year, as pictures with less “visual noise” have grown increasingly popular. I strongly believe that this trend is the result of the staggering cacophony of noise that we have experienced over the past sixty years with the advent of mass media.
Silence and Catholic Spirituality
As Catholics, what can we offer a world that desperately needs silence? Ironically, I think we have to speak up. We need to share with our tired friends, family, and colleagues the liberating freedom that comes when one heeds the call: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 11).
Our Faith has a rich tradition of seeking God in silence, whether in retreats, cloistered life, Mass, or in Eucharistic Adoration. As Catholics, we have a great opportunity to take advantage of these opportunities to enjoy some quiet in our lives. I think it is good to ask ourselves, “In what ways do I seek out silence to hear the voice of God in my life?” When we actively make silence a regular part of our lives, we will undoubtedly experience a deeper, spiritual peace, regardless of the pressures, obligations, and noise of our daily lives. Such peace will be evident to those around you, and they will probably ask you about it. Share your “secret” with them. Invite them to come with you to Mass, Adoration, etc. Our culture is certainly seeking peace, as this “silence” trend indicates, and as Catholics, we should be confident that we have something to offer others in this regard.