Noise and distraction have become seemingly unavoidable. Everywhere we go, there is music playing, a TV blaring, etc. What does this mean for Catholics—and how do we respond? Why is silence important for our relationship with Christ? What is silence, anyway?
Silence is a practice. How do we begin?
Looking back, the most fruitful Lent for me was a few years ago when I decided to abstain from “noise” in the car. I had begun to notice that turning on music or a podcast was automatic, and most of the time I was not even paying attention to it. I also noticed that certain kinds of music drastically affected my mood. It also seemed like I was using music and podcasts as a distraction from reality—like taking a “break.” So, with a bit of apprehension, I decided to turn it all off.
It was difficult at first—and I was surprised by how attached I was to it. Eventually, I discovered that I actually preferred silence in the car. This grew into a beautiful spiritual practice for me, and now I take an hour or more a day to spend in intentional silence. I still enjoy music, but the way in which I listen to it is much different. This practice of abstaining from noise has helped me to be more aware of my intentions and more aware of Christ’s presence, even in the most mundane, everyday things.
Most people find silence a bit scary. It strips us of our distractions and comfort. It is the space where Christ reveals to us who we really are—like a mirror. I always have to ask Him for help when I approach silence—and this is why a traditional way to begin prayer is to cry out: “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me!”
5 ways to start
1. Ask Christ to be with you.
We are in a direct relationship with Him, and that means that silence is important, because in it we develop closeness and grow in intimacy. Imagine two friends or significant others who watch TV every moment of their time together—they wouldn’t really be able to develop a deep bond with each other, would they? The first step in implementing silence is to ask for His companionship and help.
2. Be intentional with music and media.
Choose specific times and occasions to listen, and really listen to it. Also, music can be manipulative! Pay attention to how it may change your mood. The key question is why do I want to listen to or watch this? If it is a distraction, background noise, or not necessary, then choose to turn it off.
3. Contemplate the goodness of God.
Achieving silence is possible while riding the bus, shopping for groceries, or in the car with fussy kids. How? Silence is in the heart—it is an act of love. In any circumstance, we can think about what God has done for us, how He has changed us, His beauty, love and mercy, and the ways He shows Himself in other people. To take even a brief moment to think about these things is silence.
4. Choose to read instead.
Along with contemplation, silence includes taking time for spiritual reading—including great literature. To go deeper, take note of what is striking and ask what it means and why it is striking. Lectio Divina is another beautiful way to make ourselves available to Christ and grow in relationship with Him.
5. Keep tabs on daydreams.
Internal noise can sometimes be just as distracting as the TV. Ruminating thoughts, imaginings about the future or past, judgments on others, worries, etc. These things take our minds away from Christ and rob our hearts of silence. Ask Christ for awareness of these thoughts, and when they are noticed, offer them to Him, and ask Him to take over. Then He will have some room!
–Morgan Smith is the Director of Communication for Catholic Rural Life and the creator of several faith formation programs.