To Hear the Silence Speak

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The quiet is palpable but not heavy. In the way the warmth of a fire eases down into your very bones, the quiet here is the bearer of a strange kind of comfort. It isn’t the absence of sound. Every tiny noise reverberates off the white stone arches of the abbey. A monk coughs in the expanse between prayers. The squeaking of the wooden pews betrays the stillness. But what is found here is far deeper than the absence of sound.

“Silence is spoken here,” say the signs on the silent-dining-room tables. That’s it. The silence speaks. The Cistercian brothers that live in community in this monastery have carefully crafted and maintained it. They are the curators of silence. It’s what I come here time and time again to find. The silence has been built into something tangible and it speaks to your soul if you let it.

***

It’s never quiet here. The buildings fit together in this city like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The construction noise from the high-rise going up next to us is endless. Bang. Steel beams drop from a truck at one am. The next day we see more bricks have been added and are amazed that another building could be squeezed into that space.

Millions of lives are tangled up together like the electric wires that supply the sometimes-sporadic power to the city. I forget what quiet sounds like in a place where noise creeps into every room like the mosquitoes that craftily find their way through the holes in the nets.
I miss quiet walks in the park, the way a tree can speak to me of the Creator. I miss hearing the silence speak. The clanging of construction, honking cars, ringing rickshaw bells, and barking dogs steal the quiet. They are the thieves of silence. The noise can drown out the sounds of your prayers if you let it.

***

I didn’t notice it until the third day I was here. The weekend was a blur of activity but when the house was finally quiet for one morning, four small children finally dropped off at school, I hear it. The buzzing is so loud it is like the whir of a fan I can’t sleep without, the white noise that is my lullaby.

The sound is inside my own head, the evidence of damage done from the city noises that have been my constant companion over the past year in South Asia. Now in the quiet of my sister’s house in America, only a gentle fall breeze rustling the leaves in the tree, I begin to notice. I literally hadn’t been in a place quiet enough until now to hear my own ears ringing. The sound is overwhelming so I flick on the fan to drown it out. Sometimes the silence can be too painful to let in so I shut it out. I don’t want to hear it speak.

***

I didn’t notice it until the third day I sat here. I started taking ten minutes a day to find stillness, to try to bring some quiet into my noisy life and noisy mind. The first few days I felt the itch to be doing something else, always wanting to move onto what is next. But I kept sitting anyway.

On the third day I find myself watching magpies flying back and forth to build a nest in the opening of the building next to us. They are stunning birds, stark black and white with a beautiful song. Even though all year their song mixes with all the other noises that drift in my window, I rarely see them. I notice them today. I am quiet enough to hear the silence speak.

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Nicole T Walters
I am a writer who lives somewhere in the tension between wanderlust and rootedness.I currently make my home in Georgia with my husband and two children but have lived in and left parts of my heart in the Middle East and South Asia. I write to help people create space to listen to God, learn from others, and lead lives that love at NicoleTWalters.com. I have authored essays in several books and my writing has appeared in places like CT Women, Fathom, Red Letter Christians, and (in)courage. I am a regular contributor at here SheLoves Magazine and The Mudrooom and am a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.
Nicole T Walters
Nicole T Walters

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