In a fit of desperation, I asked God for a sign. A light, a feeling, a sound in the dead of one cold November night. I got nothing. But that nothing is the moment I have pointed to, for years, as the beginning of my conversion. Because, in retrospect, I don’t think I received nothing. I think I received silence.
Some might define silence as nothing. As a lack. And it does involve a lack. It requires quiet and restraint. But it also requires hope, listening, and receptivity. It requires the spark and love of life. In silence, God patiently, excitedly waits for us to cast ourselves into him, to rest in his bosom, to venture forth with a whisper or a shout and say, “I am weak,” or, “I need you,” or “I love you.” God’s silence is that merciful, rare permission to be vulnerable, to need, and to love, in all the earnest sincerity we must restrain ourselves from expressing over the course of a day or a lifetime.
But God does not simply want us to go to him. God wants to come to us. He wants us to open ourselves to him as he has opened himself to us. He wants our hope, our listening, our receptivity. He wants our silence. That is easy to say. It is hard to do. In noisy, frenetic lives, silence is an uncomfortable task. It is a dangerous rebellion against a culture whose armies encroach on all sides, war drums beating ever more loudly.
In this difficulty and risk, and in our own human frailty, we have need of an example and a guide. Today, we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, the God-bearer. She, more than any other, is the saint of this Great Living Silence.
In Luke’s account of the Gospel, the writer repeatedly describes Mary as pondering the words and actions of God, and treasuring them in her heart. To ponder and to treasure…this is the posture of hope, listening, and receptivity. This is how God is silent with us, and the silence he desires for us to adopt. The mind and the heart are both engaged, active, and full of love and wonder at the Word of God. This is not disinterested, thoughtless, or careless. This is not lack. This is Silence with a capital “S,” full of meaning, vibrant with life and with love. This is the two-way interaction, the dance between lover and beloved, that marks true Christian knowledge of God and of oneself. And it is God’s chosen dwelling.
We speak of pregnant pauses. Mary’s Silence is a truer pregnant pause than any. It is in Silence that God sends his Word, in that fertile Silence that the Word is grown, formed, cultivated, nourished, and loved. It is from that Silence that the Word emerges, the joyous, expectant pregnancy coming to full blossom with God made flesh, the salvation of the world, Jesus Christ.
But Mary also speaks. Her voice rings out with that blessed canticle, the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary is no mere empty receptacle for God to use, not a means to an end; she is a lover and a co-laborer with God. She acts, and just as she has been receptive to God’s loving Word, she proclaims her own love song to the God whose Word, in her, has taken his turn at Silence. Silence begets Word, and Word begets Silence, in the eternal interchange of godly love.
We too, long to praise and love God. Our souls strain to magnify the Lord, our spirits creak and groan with desire to rejoice in our Savior. The Magnificat is our love song, too. But to sing properly, we must also have Silence. We must pause to breathe God in. Without this, our song falters; the words get caught in the throat, the lungs beg for respite. And when our song falters, the raspy braying of a thousand lonely demons is quick to take our place, a cruel mockery of the heavenly choir. We should not let them. We should continue singing our love song. And to keep singing, we must be Silent.
1. Luke 1:29, 2:19, 2:51, New Revised Standard Version
2. Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye, (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1992), 43-44.
3. Luke 1:46-47
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