As we near the Nativity of God according to the flesh — aka Christmas — the world seems to get louder and louder, less attuned to the divine wayfarer who sneaks into our world through an out-of-the way cave outside the City of Jerusalem to dwell among the lowly.
One of the essential dispositions we must have to receive the God who is coming among us is inner silence, and one of the requirements for cultivating inner silence is set-aside time and space for outer silence. Silence, in the spiritual tradition, is never seen as a mere absence of sound in the environment, but rather as an inner posture of receptivity to hear and be shaped by God’s Word; an inner unity that pulls together our fragmented attention to hold a simple gaze turned toward the utterly Simple God. In that gaze we are able, even in the most frenetic contexts, to see God unveiling His Face.
Medieval Dominican theologian Meister Eckhart counseled something like this:
Some people prefer solitude. They say their peace of mind depends on this.
Others say they would be better off in church.
If you do well, you do well wherever you are. If you fail, you fail wherever you are.
Your surroundings don’t matter. God is with you everywhere — in the market place as well as in seclusion or in the church.
If you cling to nothing but God, nothing or no one can disturb you.
God is not distracted by a multitude of things.
Nor can we be.
So, this Christmas, amid the natural chaos and noise that we will find ourselves in, take care to guard silence in your heart that God might find there a welcome Inn in the silent night of our faith. If He dwells there welcomed, nothing can steal our peace.
I will allow St. Isaac of Syria, the saint of silence, to have the final word:
For God is silence, and in silence is he sung by means of that
psalmody which is worthy of Him. I am not speaking of the silence of
the tongue, for if someone merely keeps his tongue silent, without
knowing how to sing in mind and spirit, then he is simply unoccupied
and becomes filled with evil thoughts: … There is a silence of the
tongue, there is a silence of the whole body, there is a silence of
the soul, there is the silence of the mind, and there is the silence
of the spirit.