Reflection of the Week - 2nd July 2024

By Richard Rohr

Posted in Faith

The Gift of Silence

Silence is not just that which happens around words and underneath images and events. It has a life of its own. It’s a phenomenon with an almost physical identity. It is a being in itself to which we can relate. Philosophically, we would say being is that foundational quality which precedes all other attributes. When we relate to the naked being of a thing, we learn to know it at its core. Silence is somehow at the very foundation of all reality. It is that out of which all being comes and to which all things return.  

Silence precedes, undergirds, and grounds everything. We cannot just think of it as an accident, or as something unnecessary. Unless we learn how to live there, go there, abide in this different phenomenon, the rest of things—words, events, relationships, identities—become rather superficial, without depth or context. They lose meaning, so we end up searching for more events and situations which must increasingly contain ever-higher stimulation, more excitement, and more colour to add vital signs to our inherently bored and boring existence. Really, the simplest and most stripped-down things ironically have the power to give us the greatest happiness—if we respect them as such. Silence is the essence of simple and stripped down.   

We need to experience silence as a living presence which is primordial and primal in itself, and then see all other things—now experienced deeply—inside of that container. Silence is not just an absence, but also a presence. Silence surrounds every ‘I know’ event with a humble and patient ‘I don’t know.’ It protects the autonomy and dignity of events, persons, animals, and all things.  

We must find a way to return to this place, to live in this place, to abide in this place of inner silence. Outer silence means very little if there is not a deeper inner silence. Everything else appears much clearer when it appears or emerges out of a previous silence. When I use the word appear, I mean that silence takes on reality, substance, significance, or meaning. Without silence around a thing, which is a mystery, it can be difficult to find a meaning that lasts. It’s just another event in a sequence of ever-quicker events, which we call our lives.  

Without silence, we do not really experience our experiences. We have many experiences, but they do not have the power to change us, to awaken us, to give us that joy or ‘peace that the world cannot give,’ as Jesus says (John 14:27).  


Adapted from Richard Rohr, Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation, rev. ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014, 2023), 1–2, 2–3, 4–5.  


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