There is a beautiful article here by Susan Hill about the human need for silence. It’s not just another complaint about the busyness of life and the ubiquity of noise – although she is obviously disturbed by the fact that musak has crept into public libraries, doctors’ waiting rooms, and art galleries. It’s more about how children need to be educated, gently, into appreciating silence, and how we are failing to provide that education. Here are a few lines:
But we have also betrayed them by confiscating their silence and failing to reveal the richness that may be found within the context of “a great quiet”… When we arrive in a place of profound quiet, we “come to” and find something of ourselves that we did not realise we had lost, an attentiveness, a renewed awareness of our own innermost thoughts and sensations, as well as a great calm… Silence is a rich and fertile soil in which many things grow and flourish, not least an awareness of everything outside oneself and apart from oneself, as well, paradoxically, as everything within… Our children are too rarely given that opportunity or taught that the contrast between noise and quietness, like the parallel one between being in company and being alone, is vital to the growth and maturity of the individual.
As a priest working in a seminary I tend to take for granted the rhythm of study and prayer and silence that is built into each day; above all the period of 45 minutes between morning prayer and breakfast that is set aside for silent prayer and meditation. Even then, with the chapel facing the main road and a major hospital round the corner, it’s hard to escape the racket of buses, sirens and helicopters.
It was only on retreat this spring that I realised how much I missed real silence – the kind that meets you like a physical presence, and holds you, and takes you beyond; that creates a kind of natural humility, an anticipation, even a sense of awe.
A friend of mine with young children used to put them down to nap each afternoon. As they got older, without reflecting on it very much, she kept the nap time – even when they weren’t napping. It was a time of enforced silence after lunch, from about 2 to 4, when they could do anything they wanted (within reason…) as long as they did not disturb the silence. It was a real education. They’d play games, make things, explore in the garden, mope around, read as they got older. Learning to live with themselves. Then, around 4pm, the noise began…