Silence is an Endangered Species – Johnny Go, SJ

Luke 18:1-8, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

There was a time in my life when prayer felt like second nature. Whenever I was stuck in traffic, I would simply shut the world out and quietly say my rosary. Not only did I get the chance to pray for people who asked for prayers, but I also got to reconnect with the Lord in all sorts of places. You see, even if as we believe, God’s presence is constant and everywhere, we don’t always get to maintain our sense of that holy presence. But even in jeepney rides, I would be discreetly racing through my beads, praying even for the strangers I was commuting with.

Unfortunately, that habit of prayer no longer comes as naturally. You would think that with the worsening Metro Manila traffic, I would have more time to pray. But these days when I’m stuck on the road and find myself with time in my hands, I no longer resort to praying the rosary by default. Instead I catch myself engaged in a flurry of digital activities: exchanging text messages, sending out emails, or just checking out Facebook.

It’s not easy to shut the world out to pray when you can’t keep your eyes and fingers off your smartphone. Even while praying, I continue to be barraged with every sort of text messages and notifications. To be able to pray, one has to work really hard to pry oneself away from all the digital distractions that have become the very atmosphere of our lives. Can you bring yourself to shut off your devices? I suspect that for many people, the idea of getting disconnected–even for just a while–sounds almost life-threatening.

Which makes me wonder: Is silence an endangered species? How much space for silence and solitude are we still able to carve out of our busy digital lives?

The American comedian, Louis CK, shares this experience of driving alone one evening and hearing a Bruce Springsteen song that quite inexplicably made him experience a deep sudden sadness. The unexpected sadness was strong enough and intriguing enough for him to pull off the road and stop his car. He was about to reach for his phone to text some friends about it, but for some reason, decided against it. He sat there, stayed with his feelings–alone–and before he knew it, he found himself weeping. It was a rare and valuable gift–a moment when he could–for once–be with himself and by himself, and savor what life was offering him there and then.

Had he not resisted the temptation of immediately connecting with others and “sharing” that experience, he might have missed out on that significant experience; he might have lost that moment.

How many times have we lost moments like that because we were too eager to share our experiences with others? Instead of quietly gazing at a blazing sunset and allowing the power and beauty of it to flood us with a sense of awe, we Instagram it. Instead of staying with an unexpected feeling of anger, nursing it, taming it, and in the process, learning something important about ourselves, we react in the same way many people do today: We give vent to “internet rage” and impulsively type out an angry tweet that we will most likely regret almost as soon as we post it.

When we deprive ourselves of fully experiencing our feelings, we are depriving ourselves of the silence and solitude so essential to human living and growing. Even more importantly, just as mystics have reminded us again and again, only through silence and solitude can we make room for the sacred.

Andrew Sullivan writes in a recent New York Times article: “The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which faith might endure or be reborn.”

Today’s Gospel reminds us to pray–and to “pray always without becoming weary.” But our problem today isn’t exactly getting tired of prayer, but getting started in the first place! We live in an age when the norm is a lifestyle of constant connection with all its non-stop digital distractions. But we simply can’t pray without silence and solitude.

So here are some disturbing questions that deserve honest answers: Is silence an endangered species in your life? Do you need some kind of digital detox? What “baby steps” can you take today to save your prayer life?



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