When Silence Saves Us
Words. They are everywhere. Our most intimate moments, relationship moments, community and world moments, are all made up of words. Every day we say and read hundreds and thousands of words. Language is primarily spoken and written. I use words constantly at home, at work, and in my life. Expressing what we feel and think out loud is how we were created as human beings. With voice.
I am in love with words. I love the feel of them on my tongue, the concreteness of hearing a phrase that resonates deeply with my experience and understanding of the world, the physicality of writing words with pen on paper or typing my thoughts into being, or that aha moment when someone speaks something profound, and the words ‘I love you’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘keep going, you can do it.’
Language is the crux of my life. Where would I be without it? And yet, I am learning, that language comes in so many forms, and one of them is silence. Words are not needed for beautiful things to happen.
Imagine a seed planted in the darkness of earth, sprouting, coming alive through tiny green shoots and then leaves, coming up through the soil, announcing itself to the world and to Spring, bringing beauty through its new life and the flowers that come. Not a word is spoken. Yet we are deeply impacted.
In the silence, I am learning, so much can be said. Maybe silence is also the crux of life.
It was about 4 years ago when I first realized how much I needed silence. Not only silence on my own, like walking or hiking or writing in a journal, but silence with another human being. Those who know me would not believe that. I am as chatty as the best of them. But every so often, I remember the time that I first discovered how much words can also exhaust me, how relieved I was to just be with another human being in silence. It came as a complete surprise.
And it was through the great blessing of spending time with a few folks at L’ Arche London. When I first met and then spent time with a couple of their non-verbal members, who struggled with various development challenges but loved with the force of the sea, I was moved beyond my own human knowledge, to feel a surge of love through gentle touch, through eye connection and gazing at one another, through a hand on my shoulder or arm, someone holding my hand, or just sitting beside me in quiet, sorting beads with me and pulling me into wonder.
It was such a relief not to have to speak. Such a relief to sit and connect in silence, and realize that love and prayer is a language much larger than spoken words. It was such a relief to be loved and fully accepted without having to prove anything by saying the right thing, or even having to share who I was. I just was, and that was enough. It was the first time I really understood that in the quiet comes great rescue, that in the quiet comes incredible life-saving grace.
I also live in a community house, and have a housemate who struggles with various barriers and mental health, and when I met her, she didn’t speak at all. For about 2 years, I thought she was non-verbal, as I never heard her speak a word. Now we know each other well, and she can speak up a storm (much to my delight), but sometimes we have these incredibly sacred evenings, where we just sit together in the living room saying absolutely nothing, just together, listening to the traffic go by, the wind outside, the music on the TV, perhaps a show, or reading together. No words are necessary. Her company is enough. She too gives me space to just be and I will cherish that always.
Last year I spent three week on the Isle of Iona, off of Scotland. I spent much time in quiet. I walked the whole island, the beaches, the fields of grasses, the pastures. But mostly I remember standing on the beaches and the rocks, overlooking the sea. No words were necessary. I could hear love in the waves of the sea. I could hear the voice of God, the prayers of those who came before, the deep acceptance of myself in the world. I could hear myself healing in the quiet, in the silence. The silence was saving me.
May you be blessed today in a moment of silence. May you know the quiet of the sea in your heart. May you know the love of a friend who wants to just sit beside you. May you feel the love of a hand on yours, or a hug. May you know the connection of caring eyes looking into yours. May you know the incredible healing that comes when there is nothing at all you have to give. May you too be saved by silence.