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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Of Word and Silence

Only those who do not understand silence believe that all kinds of silence are the same. Not limited to the mere absence of noise, there are different kinds of silence on earth, in the heavens and in hell - though a deeper silence informs them all. We are made to listen to this quiet stillness that lives even in the midst of noise and is never disturbed by its ambiguity. Many fear an emptiness that silence sometimes sustains. There is, however, a silence that is not empty. A vulnerable silence is shared in the glancing recognition of hearts that love one another. Something too great for mere words lives in the reassuring hand offered to the broken soul. More than any word can convey is quiet solidarity that one offers a friend in death. Because our hearts ache for a silence that we do not have, some seek pathways that would still the unquenchable gnaw of unfulfilled desire. Some strive to be mindful of the present moment in an effort to find relief from their tormenting thoughts and memories. Others strive for a psychic state to set themselves above the turmoil of the day to day grind. Others pursue the next evolutionary step for human consciousness with the hopes of charting a new spiritual course. Yet all of these kinds of silence, no matter how effective in consoling and surmounting painful exigencies, cannot avoid the finality of death and its disintegrating power. These natural modes of interior serenity cannot overcome sin or forgive it—and are, therefore, as subject to its futility as is every other unaided human activity. There is, however, a silence that heals, uplifts, and ignites a desire for something greater. This majestic calm can live in the soul even the the midst of racing thoughts and oppressing anxieties. Such serenity is hidden from human industry and calculation though it can permeate bone and marrow, highest thoughts and deepest instincts. No technique or method discovers the secret fountain that floods human existence in this way. Yet, its call haunts us in our pride and provides the boundary for our despair. The humble cry of faith invites its mystery.

When approached in humility and faith, this merciful silence is ready to run and embrace us while we are still far away. Unearned, unmerited, unexpected, for the price of our tears, this quiet stillness pays us in full, no matter how little we have labored. This silent plethora binds our wounds and restores our dignity, no matter how beat up we are on the path of life. A mere mustard seed of this tender lull fulfills every desire and surpasses all our hopes. In the form of a pure gift, the wisest have sacrificed all they have to acquire this buried treasure, while only the most childlike fully possess this precious pearl. Each human heart and the whole human adventure were born out of the hope that this silence holds for us. We bear the image and likeness of this great mystery, and we live to make known its glory. Never imposing itself, the secret of this immense solitude provides the space for self gift and self possession, of relation and communion, of action and contemplation. A hidden and humble quietude, if we deny it, it will deny us. It never abandons us, however, no matter how often we abandon it, because this eternal silence is faithful to itself. This mysterious speechlessness beckons between the beats of one's own heart, in the space between the inhale and exhale of a single breath, at the end of one thought and before the beginning of the next. That we might know this ever-flowing Spring, the Truth who has always proceeded from the silent stillness of the Father's heart was conceived when this same Stillness overshadowed the woman's womb. Born in poverty and nurtured in exile, the Father's Son established the still point around which all of human history and each human heart revolve. Living among us, with every heartbeat, every breath, every thought, every word, every work until, climaxed in wordless cry and final breath, the silenced Word fully disclosed the great secret that the Father yearned to entrust to us in crucified glory. When the Word humbled Himself in rejection, betrayal, humiliation, denial, injustice, and death, all this evil was at once implicated in the Father's silent love. Because the secret of the Father is more powerful than the rancor of sin and death, He raised His Crucified Word. In raising Mary's Son, He gave Christ's obedient love the power to raise all of creation, making all things new. Having implicated Himself in our plight, the crucified Word can give us life even as we die in dissonant restlessness. Each of us can claim this Truth and cling to it even as our last life breath leaves us. In all the noise and confusion that threaten to reduce us to mere cogs in the wheel of human industry, our union in faith to the Word of the Father makes us vulnerable to that tender silence that heaven knows. Beyond the power of death, the hidden eloquence of God's immense love defines human existence. So full, so rich, so beautiful—all words fail, speechless adoration overcomes the soul—the same speechlessness that the Divine Persons share imprints itself in us. New meaning floods over our existences even now, in this difficult hour and in this grace filled moment. A saving silence rises above the silence of death and cacophony of sin.

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