In his wonderful book, The Power of Silence: Against The Dictatorship of Noise, Cardinal Robert Sarah tells us
Without silence, God disappears in the noise. And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent. Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost.
We might rightly ask, what does Cardinal Sarah mean by silence and noise? The answer, my friends, is all around us right now. Cardinal Sarah refers to silence as that environment by which we can encounter God, Who is Divine Silence. Only by placing ourselves in the silence that is God can we ever hope to hear Him in our hearts, minds, and souls. I was once told that God always answers our prayers but that we often are not listening or do not want to listen to His answer.
If God is true silence, then what is this noise that we speak of? Is it the sirens and whistles that invade our daily lives? Is it the clamoring of crowds and busy streets? Is it the blare of alarm clocks and bells that dictate our hypnotizing routine toward ends we may no longer even know?
For Cardinal Sarah, noise is anything which distracts us from God, and so that kind of noise is far beyond the sounds that disrupt our quiet moments of meditation and reflection. We all have our favorite sounds and songs. Some love a bubbling brook or birds chirping. Others enjoy the sounds of a forest or soft background music. Ultimately, inevitably, sounds surround us with such frequency and intensity that we become oblivious to their power over us. The loud sounds of a factory or office fade into the distance the longer one works in those environments. Eventually, we internalize those sounds so that they become part of who we are and, for that matter, part of who we become to others. If we allow this world to become our priority, we will invariably allow the sounds of this world to become the background music of that priority.
Faced with such variety of sounds, we indirectly choose which will become noise and which will remain simply sounds. Sounds are those things that we hear through our ears, but noises are those sounds that we hear through our minds, hearts, and souls which distract and even distance us from God. Most people will agree that alarm bells, whistles, busy streets, and bustling workplaces by themselves do not really distract us from God. I do not necessarily distance myself from God when I hear an alarm clock or enter a busy office.
So when do sounds become noise for us? For many of us, a sound becomes a noise when it is annoying, unpleasant, unwanted, or distracting, and that is a valid, earthly view of noise. Earthly noise inspires us to escape, avoid, or distance ourselves from the source of that noise. Listening to songs or music that we do not like is often noise to us because we do not find these pleasant or to our liking. In fact, things we do not understand, care about, or relate to often become simply noise to us.
However, for Cardinal Sarah, the worst kind of noise is that which pushes us away from God and what God is about. This noise is contradictory to the love and essence of what God truly is. The silence of God is not found in criticism, judgment of others, gossip, vulgarity, arrogance, or mockery. Neither is this divine silence found in idle, useless talk about superficial things.
As we proceed through our yearly Christmas journey, we may ask ourselves if this journey has become a mundane routine, a robotic ritual, or a remote control duty to fulfill. Do we do Christmas or do we truly experience its essence? Do we treat Christmas like some shopping list to finish or do we embrace Christmas as a beautifully profound opportunity to re-connect with what really matters?
There is nothing inherently wrong with Christmas music, shopping, decorations, parties, family gatherings, and all of the exciting preparations we make each year as long as we do not allow these things to define Christmas for us and therefore distance us from God. The sounds of Christmas become the noise of Christmas to the extent that we forget Christ as a result. There was a time when celebrating Christmas and getting closer to God went hand and hand. That time is past and lost. We are surrounded by a word and society immersed in very temporary, superficial, distracting, and even destructive spiritual noise. We live in a world which no longer inspires us toward God but, sadly, seems to make every effort to drag us away from Him. Whether this world succeeds in that effort is up to each of us.
God is Divine Silence, but He speaks to each of us loud and clear if we are willing to listen. We encounter Him in our prayer, in our kindness and love toward others, and in the eyes of the fragile elderly, frightened sick, confused young, and marginalized homeless. If we engage in the daily struggle to push away this world’s noise and simply listen to God’s divine, not-so-silent call, we can encounter the child Jesus on that silent night each and every day of the year.
2018 Gabriel Garnica