“Today I observe my children when they think nothing is happening: bored to tears, imprisoned in themselves, almost desperate. Like my mother [did when I was young] I feel it would be best if they could experience that more often.” Erling Kagge, Silence in the Age of Noise.
I’ve often heard that people fear public speaking more than they fear death. That those are our two biggest fears. But there’s something else we work very hard to avoid. Boredom.
Because we work so hard to avoid it, it may be that boredom is our most unacknowledged, perhaps our biggest, fear.
Covid 19 is blocking our social outlets leaving technology to feed our efforts to engage our minds.
But there is another option: we can tempt boredom and embrace silence with time to just think. We can find company with our inner selves. We can see whether silence will lead us beyond itself to a new, better place.
In his book, Kagge quotes Norwegian author Jon Fosse: “[S]ilence goes together with wonder, but it also has a kind of majesty to it . . . . And whoever does not stand in wonder at this majesty fears it.”
This fear, Kagge says, “causes me to all too easily avoid being present in my own life. Instead, I busy myself with this or that, avoiding the silence, living through the new task at hand.”
Kagge’s perspective is largely secular. Robert Cardinal Sarah‘s is not: “Sounds and emotions detach us from ourselves, whereas silence always forces man to reflect upon his own life.”
And consider this from G.K. Chesterton: “Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.”
It’s interesting that Chesterton doesn’t stop at saying we have forgotten who we are. He goes on to say, “We have all forgotten what we really are” (emphasis mine).
That’s a more universal distinction. It’s one true thing to say we don’t know ourselves well enough. It’s another true thing to say we have little understanding of what God made us to be. We can’t have the second without the first. We’ve missed much of what we are–what He intends for us.
This time of social isolation offers us time to pursue the company of God who knows who we truly are (and loves us anyway) and knows what we truly are (His with a purpose).
Dwight Longenecker offers this: “Perhaps in lockdown mode we can all take more time to listen attentively not to another podcast, audio book, or whatever is streaming on our screen gadgets, but learn to listen to the voice of the Lord. Just as God moves slowly, so he speaks quietly. The prophet hears the Lord not in the earthquake, wind, and fire but in the still, small voice of calm.”
These are lessons I’m not done working through. With the coronavirus shutdown, I found the abrupt end to my well-established routine–my everyday program of distractions–to be very unsettling. And I miss the necessary and valid fellowship of others. God did not make us for solitude.
Yet our everyday (pre-coronavirus) lives had an imbalance leaving necessary solitude abandoned and stuck at the top of the teeter-totter of life as we weighed ourselves down with much that did not matter. Now is a good time to learn how to balance the need for interaction that we’re missing with the need for silent solitude that we may have ignored for too long.
Silence feeds our souls. Silence tells us who we are–for better or for worse. (Yet how else might we improve ourselves?)
And silence lets us hear God’s still small voice telling us what we are–what He made us to do.
There are fewer than two weeks until Easter. And this Easter may be very much unlike any other we’ve ever known. Many of us feel like we’re standing still as we move through this Lenten season. And even those of us who do not mark a liturgical calendar are finding ourselves in a state of sacrifice, of having given up much, albeit not willingly.
Every great social challenge is a time of decision. Will we merely endure this time, or use it to seek our better selves and pursue God’s intended purpose for us?