October 23, 2013
Did you know there are dark-sky preserves? These are areas that are kept free from artificial light pollution, where stargazers can go to view the night sky.

As much as wetlands need protection from encroaching development, and the panda needs intervention to fight extinction, so does a dark sky need saving from bright lights and big city. Imagine your children going one day to view a real live Bengal tiger at the zoo and spending the next night at a dark-sky preserve to see actual stars.

I wonder if the same will ever happen in the protection of silence? True quiet is so hard to come by, isn't it? I live in a very small town, right at the blending of town and farmland. While it is much quieter than, say, Mexico City, or New Delhi, it isn't exactly silent.

As I sit writing this in the window of my living room, I hear the washing machine churning in the kitchen. Across the open field beyond the trees I hear school children being children on their lunch recess. My neighbour's voice carries to me as he discusses prices at the flower stall he runs from his driveway. Vehicles frequently zip by, interspersed with the rumbling chugs of a tractor and wagon. The noise of distant traffic rolls in like waves. A train whistles enthusiastically, several dogs bark from different directions in the distance, air cannon are constantly firing in the vineyards, somewhere out back a farmer is tending the grass in his orchard, and birds punctuate the whole tapestry of sound – and if you think they are the least noticeable of the lot, you are very mistaken!

It is all fairly pleasant – it is evidence of life around me. And yet noise it is. It is occasionally jarring and calls my mind away from where it was, whether deep or drifting.

Close your eyes for a moment and pay attention to what you hear. Does it soothe you, or unsettle you?

There are many studies into the effects of noise on humans. It has been found to contribute to psychiatric disorders, cognitive deficits, and places stress on the heart and nervous system. Even chronic low-level noise (such as traffic) impacts our ability to learn, increases fatigue, lack of concentration, bad moods, high blood pressure, ulcers, damage to immune system, cardiovascular deaths. And, this is important: women are more sensitive to noise stress.

We need, as Charles Morgan said, “the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still.”

We need external quiet in order to attain interior silence. We need internal silence in order to hear God, be connected with ourselves, and so connect with others. “When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.” (Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the sea)

Poustinia, Madonna House
It is difficult in our day, to experience periods of silence. In fact we often go out of our way to prevent it with music, tv, phones, mobile devices, etc. Anyone who has experienced Poustinia or gone on a silent retreat knows how difficult those first hours – or even days – are without distractions to save us from ourselves.

In comparing modern life to generations gone by who didn't have the constant stimulation we live with, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes,

Women, who used to complain of loneliness, need never be alone any more. We can do our housework with soap opera heroes at our side. Even daydreaming was more creative than this; it demanded something of oneself and it fed the inner life. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops, there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone." (Gift from the sea, pgs 35, 36)

This isn't meant to be a bitter diatribe against the evils of modern life – modern life is what it is, for good or bad. However, we must acknowledge the need for at least small periods of quiet in our daily life. We need it in order to foster interior silence, to be recollected. We need it in order to be able to receive all that is offered at Mass; to have an interior life; to be whole, rather than fractured.

A reader shared this article with us on our Facebook page, from the Taize community in France on the value of silence. "A moment of silence, even very short, is like a holy stop, a sabbatical rest, a truce of worries." "Silence makes us ready for a new meeting with God. In silence, God's word can reach the hidden corners of our hearts."

How to find this important silence in a busy and noisy life? Perhaps by declaring a Quiet Preserve in your home. Delay turning on those devices, tv, computers, radios. Drive in silence rather than playing music or even listening to a teaching CD. Sit on the back step after the kids are in bed and breathe. Be attentive to the sources of noise and stimulation around you and be open to ways of weeding them out.

I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.” (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)


  1. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I began my life in the working world at the age of 19. I was working in a print shop with a man who was a machine operator. My job was to do the grunt work of taking care of the product as it came out of the machine while he kept the folding machine running and churning out the work. Tony, the operator had been a former Trappist monk for seven years before he realized that life in a monastery was not for him. As he explained, the quiet solitude of being a Trappist never succeeded in helping him achieve what he was seeking; communication with God in the silence that surrounded him. To his surprise, he found that it wasn't until he left that life and reentered the secular world, surrounded on all sides by the noise of clanging machinery in this print shop that he would be able to reach his goal. To him it wasn't in the silence that he found God, but in the clamor of the world.

    God is like that. We are all unique and to each of us God gives us the ability to reach Him and be in His presence no matter the cacophony of the world that may or may not surround us. I think our interior disposition has much to do with it because even in a truly silent world our minds may chatter incessantly creating its own noise. But like you, I find a gentle silence conducive to a more peaceful existence where ones thoughts are more able to soar closer to the divine. For Tony, he found it within what most of us encounter daily: noise. Perhaps it is not the natural sounds of life that disturb us the most, but the self-imposed noise with which we inflict upon ourselves in this brave new world of technology. My thoughts :)

  2. Well, hello Ordinary Catholic, very good to hear from you, and thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    I find myself quoting The Grinch more often than I'd like: "Noise. Noise! NOISE!"
    Give me a lighthouse, where there is nothing but crashing of the waves and howling of the wind. Perhaps there my mind may be at rest. I don't think I'd do well in your printshop. It's no accident I work in libraries!
    I wonder, if we could track the number of people who 'hear' God in their lives over the centuries, would there be a decline beginning with the Industrial Revolution? Would there be a drastic drop with the advent of the internet?



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