Often, I crave silence. I long to retreat from the noise of news, the sirens of social media, the din of demands, and the clamor of emails and text messages. I know that, if I retreated for a long time, I’d experience FOMO, the fear of missing out, but that’s not a real risk for me. I face, instead, the fear of not hearing what matters most—the groaning and the singing of creation, the cries of the suffering, the sighs of the discouraged, the delight of the joyful, the laughter of children and of God, the centering and shaping voice of Jesus, the guiding and sustaining whispers of the Spirit, and my own hopes, fears, and gratitude.
Since I’m rarely able to stay awake to watch The Daily Show and Colbert, I’m glad to have outtakes on Instagram the next day. Tracy K. Smith’s The Slowdown podcast has reminded me what a fine writer she is and introduced me to poets about whom I didn’t know. Seth Godin’s Akimbo is one of the sanest and most helpful “business” podcasts I’ve heard (it’s actually about the business of life). There are around a dozen more podcasts I listen to regularly, and they help me learn more about, for instance, the quests for justice, the intersections of sociology, psychology, and culture, and the lessons history holds for the present moment.
I’m glad when family and friends send me photos of their dogs or flowers or links to articles they’ve found intriguing or memes that made them smile. Facebook keeps me connected, however remotely, with people for whom I care. And, going on Twitter is a bit like taking a walk down a dusty street in a Wild West town: it feels lawless, but there are also pioneers there who inspire me.
All that to say, my longing to retreat into silence isn’t about moving into a hermitage. I want the give and take—the opportunities and responsibilities—of community. Instead, I withdraw in order to engage again—am quiet so that I may choose my words more wisely, listen for guidance so that I don’t mislead, and hear again that I am a beloved child of God so that I am free enough from fear to treat others as the beloved children they are.
For me, silence is an invitation and a gift. More often than I do, I need to choose silence.
There are others, though, who are being silenced, and they have been for far too long. It’s one thing to withdraw voluntarily into quiet; it’s another thing to be shoved out of earshot. A retreat into stillness and exile from community are vastly different from each other. While I get tired of hearing myself talk, there are people who are exhausted from never having been heard. The deaths of C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, as well as the passion of people who assemble to assert that “Black Lives Matter,” remind me that protest is the amplified voices of those to whom the dominant and dominating culture has refused to listen. Maybe one of the unexpected benefits of my own silence is stepping-aside, not simply to allow but to encourage others to speak. As Muslim scholar and activist Su’ad Abdul Khabeer said, “You don’t need to be a voice for the voiceless. Just pass the mic.”