Standing before the blank canvas, the artist dips his brush. Colour and light splash onto the white space, the beginnings of a masterpiece.
The conductor lifts her wand, anticipation building. With a flourish of her hand, bows are drawn, sounding the first notes in a musical symphony.
We are surrounded by silence. In the gaps between heartbeats, the breaths between words, the pauses between movements, silence rushes in, filling the void. It is the dark matter of our world, the blank page on which we write our lives. It is where we find God.
‘The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.’
In the silence we are able to hear the gentle whisper of God, to feel His touch on our hearts.
We spend our lives building, creating. This is as it should be. It is, after all, our Divine mission: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the land, and conquer it.” However, when we spend our lives in the constant cacophony of construction, we can begin to forget the why, the purpose around which our life accretes. We eat from the tree of knowledge and believe that we have become like God. Suddenly, we are afraid of the silence, afraid of God’s footsteps in the garden, of what they might mean.
We must learn to return to the silence, the blank canvas of existence, and listen. It is in this silence that meaning is shaped, that the ineffable name of God erupts from within, unchanged by human lips. Unutterable because to utter it would be to change it, to shape it, to break the silence of the pure sound.
Just like white noise, ignored in the favour of other, more readily distinguishable sounds, might we be ignoring the voice of God?
In the face of the unthinkable loss of his children, Aaron opts for the only reply that would do justice to his inexplicable loss, “And Aaron was silent”. Silence is where we say that we don’t have all the answers, that all the palaces of meaning we have constructed are not enough. It is where we deposit our hearts with God, and trust that the still, small voice will whisper some comfort.
And silence, our precious silence, is disappearing.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
It is being replaced, replaced with a bizarro version of itself, identical in every way but the one that matters. The silence of today is devoid of soul; there is no voice of God to be heard. Instead, our silence teems with a deafening sound, voices layered on voices, impossibly loud yet deadly quiet.
When we sit with another, our heads buried in the glowing screen, we are silent, but we do not hear the silence. We are, instead, plugged into a web vaster than our wildest imaginings, each and everyone of the billions of users attempting to download their voices, opinions, and very beings straight to your brain. Forget listening for the still, small voice of God - we struggle to even pay attention the very loud voices of our children crying for our attention, tugging on our sleeves, hoping to drag us away from the matrix for a few precious moments.
Our attention is the most valuable thing we possess. Our ability to listen - to God, to our children, our loved ones - is part of what makes us essentially human. Onkelos, the great translator of the Torah, writes that the uniqueness of humanity lies in our speech, “and man became a speaking thing”. However, in order for our speech to mean something, someone must be listening. Someone must turn their eyes to ours, attune their ears to our speech, to appreciate the uniqueness of what we are, and what we say. When we choose to place our heads, our souls, in a glowing screen instead of another’s heart, we not only lose part of our humanity, but in the process lessen the whole of the human endeavour as well.
All is not lost. We are not only the brainless players of the slot machines in our pockets. Instead, we can choose to break free, to loosen the million little bonds which hold us to the beach. We can rise, not with our legs, but with our hearts.
We can choose to listen. To give substance to the One who gave us substance. To show our family, our spouse, our children, that we love and care about them. That we value their unique voice, that we can be silent and listen.
When we are silent, we are choosing to trust. To trust that the one to whom we listen will share their being with us. To trust, as Aaron trusted in God, that nothing need be said, that no constructs need be created.
“For you, silence is praise.”
Let us recommit to being silent, to listen to the voices hidden in our hearts. Let us rediscover the rhythm of the universe, and hopefully we will once more merit to hear “the still, small voice”.