Sound of Silence
I’m going to repeat some words, a few short phrases, and then see if you can tell me if you recognize where they are from. Some of you who are older, like me, may recognize them right away.
Hello darkness, my old friend; I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping; Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain; Still remains; Within the sound of silence
I see a few of you nodding your heads that you do recognize these words because they are from a famous song titled by the last four words: The Sound of Silence. It’s hard to believe that this song was released the year I was born, 1964. It was written and performed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel and it’s still popular today. One could say it’s a classic. But what does the song mean? Why was it written? It’s not completely clear but Paul Simon has previously said that it was about how he wrote songs. He would go into his bathroom, turn out the lights and sit there by himself in complete darkness and silence. And in those conditions, the words and the music would come to him.
And this connects very well with what we are celebrating today on the Second Sunday of Great and Holy Lent. We commemorate St. Gregory Palamas Archbishop of Thessalonike today because he was the champion of hesychia, Greek meaning ‘silence.’ St. Gregory was a defender of silent prayer. We often think of prayer as talking to God but do we ever thing of prayer as not talking? And hesychastic prayer is not only not talking but also not thinking—no thoughts.
If, as St. Paul says, we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1Cor.3:16; 6:19-20), then God’s Spirit lives in us. What we need is to be constantly attentive to the Word of God speaking in our hearts.
Hesychia may be likened to contemplation, which begins where prayer leaves off, where there are no words, no actions and no thoughts. Contemplation, enjoying the Lord in silence, is as close to heave as we can get here on earth. St. Theophan the Recluse (+1894) says that hesychastic prayer leads us into the very presence of God: “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.”
As far back as 1927, studies have repeatedly link noise pollution to hearing problems, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease.
In silence some of the world’s greatest discoveries have been made. Archimedes discovered the law of specific gravity while relaxing in silence in his bath. Galileo discovered the principle of the pendulum while praying silently in the cathedral of Pisa. When the scientist of today would wrest some secret of nature’s mystery, he does not set up his apparatus in the midst of a noisy and crowded street, but in some quiet and remote laboratory, where he waits for nature to speak. It is so when man waits for God to speak. He must close the door on the world.
Elijah found that the Lord was not in the whirlwind, nor in the earthquake nor in the fire, but in the still small voice (1Kings 19:11). Isaiah learned that quietness and confidence were sources of his strength.
For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and you would not.” (Isaiah 30:15)
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46)
12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12)
If Jesus found it necessary to guard carefully the time for quietness and reflection; if He had to be alone to keep His soul steady; how much more do we? We cannot know God if we are always in motion, caught up in and held prisoners by the rush and pace of life. It is when we go into our closet and shut the door that God has an opportunity to become real to us. Perhaps this is the reason God makes silence happen in our life: the silence of sleep, the silence of sickness, the silence of sorrow, and most of all the silence of death.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)
It must be understood that silent prayer cannot stand alone. It is intimately related to public worship. As one of the saints said, “There can be no closet prayer without common prayer.” It is common prayer that gives us the inspiration and enthusiasm and guidance to practice closet prayer.
Fr. Thomas Hopko said, “In order to pray you’ve got to be quiet. In order to know your children, you’ve go to be quiet. In order to get to know your spouse you’ve got to be quiet. In order to get to know yourself, you’ve go to be quiet. In order to get to know God, you’ve got to be quiet.”
“The highest form of prayer is to stand silently in awe before God” (St. Isaac the Syrian).
“I have often repented of having spoken but never of having remained silent” (Abbot Arsenius).
The desert Fathers tell of the time Archbishop Theophilos went to the desert to visit Abba Pambo. But Abba did not speak to him. When the brethren finally said to Pambo, “Father, say something to the archbishop so that he may be edified,” he replied, “If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.”
A brother once came to visit Abba Moses and asked him for a word of advice. The old man said to him, “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” Amen!