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Silence Is Productive

by Daniel O’Rourke

This year’s Academy Awards have nominated The Artist for an Oscar. The Artist is a silent comedy. In many different categories the bookies’ odds favor The Artist. In a few weeks we will know if the gamblers are right, but the fact that a silent firm is being seriously considered is itself major news.


Silence is not in vogue these days. Modern technology has made it rare. MP3 players, Bluetooth headsets, and iPhones have made it a rarity. People today are forever checking their high-tech gadgets; it seems we’re afraid to be alone and out of touch.

There’s no doubt that communication with others is extremely important for living. But Father Michael Casey, a Trappist monk, has written eloquently on “The Value of Silence.” Casey tells us that there is “Another dimension of human life where we experience the joy of solitude and taste the freedom that comes when we are able to withdraw from the noise and involvement of social interaction to reach the level of the heart.

We need to learn how to keep our need for noise and entertainment to a minimum as a first step to a more intense spiritual life.

By reducing the level of physical noise we attain stillness and peace that refresh us and allow us to recuperate from the pressures of modern life.”

Saint John of the Cross also preached silence. He wrote, “Silence is God’s first language.” And over two thousand years ago the Greek playwright Euripides wrote, “The good and the wise live quiet lives.” We moderns, however, flee silence like a sexually transmitted disease. It frightens us. Silence might force us to look into our hearts and souls, and we’re uncomfortable doing that.

The word silence has evolved into a negative verb: “The New York police silenced the Occupy Wall Street protesters,” or “The opposition in Parliament was silenced by the jeers of the majority.” “The good and the wise”, however, don’t view silence so negatively. They lead “quiet lives.”

The wise know that the fetus in the womb grows in silence; the seed in the ground grows in silence; the soul in meditation grows in silence; and often the inspiration of the artist grows in silence.

There has been recognition that silence can also be a positive factor in the work place – at least if the work place demands creativity. See John Lane’s book, The Spirit of Silence: Making Space for Creativity. Some have learned that shutting off their iPhones and Blackberries can bring lucidity and clarity to their work-related thinking.

All of us should carve out time in our busy lives – and in our workday for silence. The hymn says it well.

From all the fret and fever of the day,
Let there be moments when we turn away and,
Deaf to all confusing outer din,
Intently listen for the voice within.
In quietness and solitude we find
The soundless wisdom of the deeper mind,
With clear harmonious purpose let us then
Bring richer meaning to the world again

But the Hebrew psalmist said it even better: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column appears in the Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, The Living Spirit is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website


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