Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
Silence for the soul

by Dennis Heaney

(From the Jan. 18, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney Have you ever noticed the many different sounds of the holiday season? There are music and bells and, most of all, voices. We greet one another: “Happy Thanksgiving!” Merry Christmas!” “Happy New Year!” We raise our voices in song and laughter and in storytelling around the dinner table.

Then there are those sounds that are not so pleasant: the honking horns of impatient drivers, cash registers that remind us we’re spending more than we should, and, of course, the quarrels and pettiness that ruin what should be happy, festive get-togethers. Whether inspiring or irritating, the noises we hear as well as the sounds we make can leave us desperate for some peace and quiet.

Why is it that silence is so hard to come by?

Even when you take a walk in the country or sit in a room by yourself making an effort to be still, you usually end up creating your own mental “noise.” Your thoughts churn and, rather than refreshing yourself, you relive the past and worry about the future rather than focusing on the moment. And telling yourself to pray, to concentrate on God’s presence doesn’t always help either.

“How can you expect God to speak in that gentle and inward voice which melts the soul, when you are making so much noise with your rapid reflection?” asked Francois Fenelon. “Be silent and God will speak again.”

Silence is no mean achievement in this world of ours. Recently, I read that Kathleen Norris, author of the book Amazing Grace, tried to teach youngsters about the nature of silence. She wrote that when she was an artist working in elementary schools, she developed an exercise for the students in which they would first make noise – and then make silence. Her plan was seemingly very simple: when she raised her hand they would shout, stomp their feet and pound their fists as loudly as possible for several seconds, but, when she lowered her hand, they had to be as still and quiet as they could.

Norris learned that she usually had to let the youngsters try several times before they could do it. Eventually, she said, “I found that children were able to become so still that silence became a presence in the classroom.”

The results were a revelation to the children. Some were so intrigued that they wanted to do it again, but others didn’t like the silence. One boy said “It’s like we’re waiting for something – it’s scary.”

When the author asked the students to write about the experience, their images of the noise they made were rather clichéd (“we sound like a herd of elephants”). Silence, on the other hand, conjured up their creativity and their spirituality.

Norris said: “In a tiny town in North Dakota a little girl offered a gem of spiritual wisdom that I find myself returning to when my life becomes too noisy and distractions overwhelm me: ‘Silence reminds me to take my soul with me wherever I go.’”

Of course, we grown-ups know that our souls are always with us, always the essence of our being. The problem is that in the midst of the noise and busy-ness of everyday life, we often forget. Making the time and place for silence truly can remind us to take our souls with us – wherever we go.

(Dennis Heaney is director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “That’s The Spirit – The Power of Prayer,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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