How Can We Be Silent?

by Gyasi Byng March 28, 2017

I’ve been thinking about silence.

What role should silence play in our everyday lives?

What should be a Christian’s relationship to quiet?

Personally, I thrive on silence. Noise and chatter are grating to me. Quiet is therapeutic. When I sit still, be quiet, and remain silent, I’m able to sort through the chaos of my thoughts and figure out what it is I actually want to say or write. I’m not the type of writer who enjoys the bustle of a park or the energy of a café. I know this about myself, and yet, as a Christian, I still find myself thinking about how faith and silence work together. 

Proverbs talks about silence in conjunction with wisdom. To put it in a very frank and crude way, Proverbs tells us to shut up lest we be thought a fool. 

I really like this advice because I’m often quite foolish. 

In Luke, Mary hears all the amazing things being said about her newborn son and keeps quiet. She “ponders” them in her heart, we’re told. It’s a beautiful and utterly human reaction. After all, what should one say after giving birth to the Son of God? 

The book of Matthew encourages us to pray in secret. Rather than exclaiming our praises to God loudly on the street corner for every man, woman, and child to hear, Jesus tells us to lock ourselves away in our rooms and pray unseen. Prayer should be an act that only you and God know about. Early on, I took this to heart and I still find it a challenge to pray around others. For me, prayer is a one on one conversation not a town hall meeting.

This is not to say that if you bless your food in a restaurant then you’re going to be riding a one-way slingshot to hell. Instead, Jesus was telling us that we shouldn’t pray in public merely to have others think us holy.

Silence can be beneficial, but silence can also be isolating and terrifying.

When the adulteress was brought before him, Jesus kept silent at first before dropping a bombshell of conviction upon the crowd: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Upon being forced to confront their own sin, the woman’s accusers silently slipped away.

Facing humiliation and death, Jesus kept silent before the Sanhedrin. The purpose of his silence was to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah, but as humans, we understand the mental fortitude one must possess and psychological agony one undergoes when we have to be quiet before someone we know is wrong.

In the Old Testament, God’s silence brings the Psalmist to the brink of despair. When God is silent, the writer imagines God’s absolute disregard and indifference. He begs God for a word, any word, because then he can believe that he is worth God’s notice. Even a word of anger is better than silence.

Considering this, I wonder how intimately linked are silence and imagination?

When we keep silent, our thoughts and emotions remain our own. We can commune with ourselves and maintain some sense of inner calm. Conversely, we allow others to create us in their own image. When we are silent, we become blank slates on which others draw their friends or enemies. 

If I say nothing, then other voices speak for me.  

I’m not encouraging anyone to run screaming through the streets at every opportune moment. Don’t think that racing through your neighborhood shouting your inner convictions is akin to holiness. Rather I want to suggest, in the vain of Ecclesiastes, that perhaps there is a time to be silent and a time to roar.

We don’t know what the future will bring. Some people I know see 2017 as a welcome respite from 2016. For them, 2016 wasn’t a very good year at all. That mindset is completely understandable given that many places around the world are literally crumbling and burning. 

Right now, I’m looking at 2017 as less of a break in the bad weather and more of a fog. I’ll be walking into it with my arms ahead of me, feeling my way along and hoping I don’t crash into anything.

But my goal is to work on silence. To be more specific, I would like to become better at discerning when it is beneficial to be silent and when my silence is being understood as complicity.

Perhaps that goal is too complex to accomplish in one year. However, I’m going to keep asking, “What role should silence play in my everyday life? What is the Christian’s relationship to quiet?”  

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Gyasi Byng
Gyasi Byng

Author

Gyasi S. Byng lives in Rochester, New York. She is PhD student at the University of Rochester where she teaches a writing course on robotics and human identity. She received her MA from Florida Atlantic University and her BA from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Her recent publications include “I Have Never Been Strong” in Open Minds Quarterly, “In the Waiting Line” in Apogee: Reclaiming the Margins, and “Beige Girl Problems” in Rivet: The Journal of Writing That Risks.



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