Listening Within the Sounds of Silence

Staff_Delony, LenThroughout Lent, many of us gathered on Wednesdays to consider how to be “instruments of God’s peace,” partly by exploring Silent Compassion, the book by Richard Rohr. You may remember the amazing song “The Sounds of Silence” (written by Paul Simon soon after the assassination of President John Kennedy.) The song’s sounds and hauntingly poetic words call us in our isolation to awaken to the brokenness silenced by our noisy, self-made “neon gods.” Ironically, sometimes it is silence and darkness that awaken and reconnects us. Below are some quotes from Silent Compassion, followed by a solemn video of Paul Simon performing “The Sounds of Silence” at Ground Zero in New York on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. As we move into the Easter Season, I invite you to enter into the deep sounds of silence with the help of the quotes and song below.

Blessings to you and yours as we travel together into and through this new way of being we call Eastertide . . .


Quotes from Silent Compassion by Richard Rohr:

“Silence is not just that which is around words and underneath images and events. It has a life of its own. It’s a phenomenon with almost a physical identity. It is a being in itself to which you can relate . . . Silence is somehow at the very foundation of all reality. It is that out of which all being comes and to which all things return… unless we learn how to live there, go there, abide in this different phenomenon, the rest of things — words, events, relationships, identities — all become rather superficial, without depth or context. They lose meaning.”

“Silence creates a kind of sympathetic resonance with what is right in front of us. Without it, we just react . . . The opposite of contemplation is not action, it is reaction. We must wait for pure action, which always proceeds from a contemplative silence.”

“The soul does not use words. It surrounds words with space, and that is what I mean by silence . . . The ego, on the other hand, uses words to get what it wants. When we are in an argument with our spouses or friends or colleagues, that is what we do. We pull out the words that give us power.”

“Silence is a kind of wholeness. It can absorb contraries. It can absorb paradoxes and contradictions. Maybe that is why we do not like silence. There is nothing to argue about in true inner silence, and the mind likes to argue.”

“What I have experienced during my longer Lenten retreats is that time actually increases inside of silence. It feels like time is “coming to fullness,” as the New Testament says, time beyond time. It shifts from each successive moment of chronological time, from the Greek chronos, to kairos or momentous time, when one moment is as perfect as it can be, when it is all right here, right now, it is enough.”

“When you put together knowing together with not knowing, and even become willing not to know, you have this marvelous phenomenon called faith, which allows you to keep an open horizon, an open field. You can thus remain in a humble and wondrous beginner’s mind, even as you grow older, maybe even more so.”

“As one author I read years ago said, silence is the net below the tightrope walker. We are walking, trying to find the right words to explain our experience, but silence is that safety net that allows us to fall, that says and admits, as poets often do, that our words will never be perfectly right or ever sufficient.”

“The dualistic mind splits the moment and forbids the dark side, the mysterious, the paradoxical. This is the common level of conversation that we have in the world. Basically, it lacks humility and patience, and it is the opposite of contemplation… The Holy Spirit frees you from taking sides and allows you to remain content in the partial darkness of every situation long enough to let it teach you, broaden you, and enrich you…. Paul beautifully speaks of it in Philippeans 4:6-7: “Pray with gratitude and the peace of Christ, which is beyond knowledge or understanding (“the making of distinctions”), will guard both your mind and your heart in Christ Jesus.”

“Rationality is a fine mode of thinking. It produced the industrial revolution, the scientific revolution, the mechanical revolution, and the medical revolution. Most of us would not be sitting here without it right now. Thank you, God, for the dualistic, rational mind! It is so good as far as it goes, but it cannot go far enough. There is a ceiling above which the rational mind cannot go . . . Today, we are living in a marvelous time, a time when the contemplative mind is being rediscovered… there are many people whose souls still live in that silent, spacious, open place. And this is invariably the fruit of great love or great suffering, and usually both. This is the natural path and universally available path to contemplation for all people . . . Although the universally available paths are love and great suffering, conscious inner prayer will accelerate the path to contemplation and transformation.”

“True prayer or contemplation is a leap into commonality and community. You know that what you are experiencing is held by the whole and that you are not alone anymore. You are a part, and forever a grateful part.”

Paul Simon performing “The Sounds of Silence” at Ground Zero


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