The prairie grass waved as the wind cooled the walkway; the green expanse was freckled only by clouds’ shadows. The natural beauty of the plains was broken only by classic wooden farmhouses and the red brick buildings where we slept.
These stunning surroundings seeped into my soul, as beauty tends to do when we allow ourselves to be immersed in it. That weekend, in the silence imposed by the retreat, I was absorbed by the wonders of creation.
The quiet created a space within myself to slow down and really look: to look more closely at my own life and relationship with Christ, as the retreat intended, as well as at the beauty around me.
Reflecting on this experience, I am saddened by how often I am distracted, from myself and from my surroundings. I find myself busy with a to-do list, mentally blocking out everything else.
Worse still, I seek out a diversion, checking Facebook, email or blog posts, rather than entering into the silence of the evening. This temptation grows in an attempt to avoid loneliness or other feelings of dissatisfaction.
In a recent interview, poet Dana Gioia expressed both the difficulty of obtaining quiet and the impact of silence.
“Someone is always trying to sell us something. That’s why for half the year I live in the country. I find that when I stop and I’m quiet and I slow my life down, my whole life changes.”
Gioia went on to express the danger of not making time for silence.
“If you ask me what my greatest social fear is, it’s that people are so busy with so many things that they no longer have time for an inner life,” he said. “There is so much external stimulus that they’ve lost the ability to hear themselves think. Over many years, I think that flattens our inner lives into pancakes of perception.”
As Gioia said, when I am immersed in the “external stimulus,” with little time for silence, my perception of my environment and myself is, indeed, flattened. I am less aware of my surroundings — less apt to notice and enjoy the beauty that is around me.
The truest desires of my heart — for beauty, love, justice and truth — are obscured. Most importantly, I lose the ability to see Christ’s presence in a given situation. Though Christ’s presence might make itself known in a busy moment, it is most often recognized because of the practice of silence in our lives.
Time for silence can be made on an ordinary evening or a weekend getaway to nearby natural wonders. We can carve it into our daily lives in large and small chunks, gradually allowing ourselves to be changed by it.
The Prayer of St. Benedict states, “May we have the patience to wait for you and the perseverance to look for you.” Patience and perseverance to see Christ require the silence necessary to recognize him as he manifests himself in our lives.
Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick writes from Oklahoma City.