Seeds of Silence

By Giuseppe Gagliano

During this time of Lent — as we prepare for the path to Easter — I’ve been trying to bring more silence into my life. My default is so often to let noise overtake me, whether it’s part of daily work and routine or whether it’s my own choice to drown the silence with music, films, or television.

Silence is a relatively new practice for me, as I’ve so often scoffed at those who were simply silent. It’s amazing what you find buried in your head when you allow yourself to sit still. I’ve even discovered that I have a continuous soundtrack playing around and around—of various sounds, conversations, and songs.

But I’ve begun to also wonder why it is that I’ve been avoiding silence for so long. What is it about being alone with one’s own thoughts that is so often uncomfortable? Why is sound so soothing while the most profound silence is so deafening? Why would so many of us prefer to sit by a gurgling stream than to hear the beating of our own heart against the background of our rattling mindscape?

I’ve come to a strange and perhaps frightening conclusion. Silence is, in many ways, a reminder of death, at least for those of us who are used to hearing. After all, when will our bodies be the most silent? We come into this world as crying infants, and our gasps for breath continue unstopped. No matter how great or small, each one of us makes constant noise and movement, even in the simple act of breathing. And each one of us will one day cease moving as our bodies succumb to a final stillness.

This may all sound rather macabre, that silence is a reminder of our death. It is certainly not a very enticing endorsement to find stillness in your life. If there were an ad agency to sell silence, I’m sure they wouldn’t start with this point. But, thanks be to God, that is not the end. There is hope.

In today’s reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus presents to us—pun intended—a kernel of truth. He says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Here, Christ is giving us the counterintuitive fact that true life comes not through what we think life is, but in dying to itself it produces much fruit. The seed above the ground bears nothing, but it yields its produce only when buried. Christ reveals to us that there is a path through death into life. And, after all, that is what he proved in his own death and resurrection.

So, getting back to silence, perhaps it is incumbent upon us to engage in such a practice — not with the fear of our final silence, but with the hope of abundant life. Silence may stand as a reminder of our own finality, but perhaps that is the reminder that we need to live what lives we have more fully. To look away from our mortality may be pleasant, but each one of us will—or already have—come to look at our end in the face. It’s best to be ready for an inevitability, even perhaps embracing our end with a living love.

The German Jesuit priest and theologian, Karl Rahner wrote so beautifully of God’s silence even as he wrestled with his lack of hearing from the Creator. He writes about how silence seems to be a premonition of death, for it is those who have died who are perpetually silent. And yet, Rahner goes on to write to God these words: “Your silence is the framework of my faith, the boundless space where my love finds the strength to believe in your love. . . . Your love has hidden itself in silence, so that my love can reveal itself in faith.”[1]

In other words, the silence that we face in this life is not simply an emptiness — although that is what it may seem to be — but it’s even the vessel where God’s love and truth shines through. While it may be a reminder of our final end and the sound of all those who have gone into death before us, it is the place of a new and holy birth. Even as the world was made by God’s voice, there is still a fullness in God’s silence.

The path that we walk through Lent and into Easter is the path of the seed that dies in the soil. In this dark time of prayer and penitence, we reflect more deeply on the stranger parts of life. Such preparation leads us through Christ’s suffering on the cross, to his final breaths and his resurrection.

As we look forward to the time of our germination in Christ, I encourage you to take some time to rest in silence. Do not worry about what you will find there. Simply observe, and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the power to discern what you find.

Let yourself be a seed buried in the stillness of the soil. Do not worry about how you will grow, but simply rest in what you have around you. After all, a seed does not fret about its growth. It simply waits until the time is ripe to unfold.

God’s silence is a boundless space where our love may find the strength to believe in God’s love. We, who are buried with Christ, rest in the hope of rising with Christ. Then the silence of this present darkness will be broken by the sound of the angelic trumpet, and the joy of resurrection will be our song.

The Rev. Canon Guiseppe Gagliano is canon for lay ministries of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec and a member of the clergy team of the St. Francis Deanery, Eastern Townships, Quebec.

[1] Karl Rahner, Encounters with Silence (South Bend: St Augustine’s Press, 1999), 56.


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