Lin Weeks Wilder

Lin Weeks Wilder

Christianity, faith, peace, Prayer, St Benedict, Writing

A Spirit of Silence

a spirit of silence

A Spirit of Silence

In the Rule of Benedict, silence is necessary, even indispensable for those of us who seek God. In fact, chapter six of the Rule of Benedict, “A Spirit of Silence,” makes clear why Saint Benedict considers silence imperative. The chapters’ title challenges our conception of silence as a lack, an absence. Saint Benedict’s phrase, “a spirit of silence,” implies the opposite–perhaps is even suggestive of a presence.

Let’s reflect on the word for a moment or five. We define silence with negatives: “absence of sound,” or “a state of not speaking.” So it feels like a lack of a necessary thing. But St. Benedict’s wording implies doing with intention and action. Although I’ve written about the ‘Seduction of Noise: Advice from the 5th Century, ‘ noise ‘pollution‘ and its mitigation is a vastly different thing from silence

This man from the 5th century, isn’t writing about the external condition of noise. Instead, Saint Benedict speaks of our internal selves, our mind and hearts…our intention: we must adopt a spirit of silence-(italics mine)

Here are his words:

Let us do what the Prophet says:
“I said, ‘I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue.
I have set a guard to my mouth.’
I was mute and was humbled,
and kept silence even from good things” (Ps. 38:2-3).
Here the Prophet shows
that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times
to refrain even from good speech, so much the more ought the punishment for sin make us avoid evil words.

Sinning with my tongue?

In our culture of endless rights, whether to our bodies, free speech, and freedom from all kinds of rules, the notion of ‘sinning with our tongues’ sounds so fifth- century as to be laughable. Bur if we stop for just a moment and consider the content of usual conversation and what’s called, “news,” the words of Saint James take on breadth and heft.

Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.
The tongue is also a fire.
It exists among our members as a world of malice,
defiling the whole body
and setting the entire course of our lives on fire,
itself set on fire by Gehenna.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature,
can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species

Saint Benedict is challenging us. With his specific examples, the precise details of instructions, the master explains that a spirit of silence is a gift, even perhaps a virtue. Obtained by strict self-control, a focus away from self and toward the other, external noise can fade into oblivion when we cloak ourselves with a spirit of silence.

Emphatically, Saint Benedict writes to refrain “even from good speech.” Therefore we must resist our temptation to pass on the latest terrifying bit of news about a new plague–fully aware of the damage ‘bad speech’ or writing can cause. Trusting that Saint Paul’s admonition to Timothy applies to us:

I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control

Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus

How do we do this?

On the face of it, it feels impoassible I know. There are some things we must know, if only to pray for those perpetrating lies and fear, So how do we practice a spirit of silence, practically?

Brother Jerome Leo, still my mentor although he died last year, has a few suggestions.

“We aren’t Trappists in the world. We cannot control our spaces as if they were monasteries, but we can and must control our own mouths. Total silence would likely be read as uncaring rudeness, but what about some alternative forms of silence? What if one resolved to speak not at all, all day, except in words of kindness, mercy or support, to never open one’s mouth except to affirm.

Pursue that line of thinking, be creative. Fast for a week from contention and see what happens. Try a day of not talking at all about yourself. Try a whole day of asking others about themselves! One way or another, increase the levels of good one can do with speech and diminish those of harm.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21)”

Not just the tongue, folks, but the keyboard and any other writing instrument, too! Genuine inner peace cannot coexist with meanness of thought, word or deed. Genuine inner peace can be held only in a field of gentleness and deep, tender mercy!”

Brother Jerome Leo, RIP.

Post Tags :
brother jerome leo, happiness, power of tongue, sacred, st james, telling the truth

1 thought on “A Spirit of Silence”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Lin Wilder

Lin Wilder has a doctorate in Public Health from the UT Houston with a background in cardiopulmonary physiology, medical ethics, and hospital administration. 

Latest Sunday Reflections

Scroll to Top