Some Thoughts on the Value of Silence

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

You and I have a double interior. We can conceal what is within, that is, what is within our interior. A surgeon explores what is within you, yet you have concealed your deepest sentiments and intentions. He has not reached your interior. Why? The reason is that you have two interiors, and he has access to only one of them.

You have a spatial interior (your intestines are in you, your lunch is in you, etc), and you have a non-spatial interior, an immaterial interior, which is why the surgeon who explores your spatial interior will never uncover your deepest sentiments and intentions. He has no access to your "spiritual interior". A thought is within you, but it is not in your stomach, nor is it in your brain. No matter how thoroughly we explore your brain through X-Ray (brain scan), we will never discover your idea of the brain, or your idea of an idea, or your idea of your self, etc., A computer, however, has only a spatial interior; it does not possess a self-consciousness, because it has no self. It is a collection of individual substances unified into an artifact (it is an artificial product without a determinate nature or interior).

Sense perception opens us up onto the exterior world, which is replete with material substances that are sensible, that is, possessing affective qualities, such as color, sound, texture, odor, etc. Silence, however, allows us to descend into this supra-sensible interior, this immaterial realm within each one of us. But the senses cannot take us there; it is only through the power of intelligence through which one possesses self-consciousness that we make our way there. But why would anyone want to?

The reason is that this realm is a part of you. But more importantly, it is the deepest and most intimate part of you. You only share your deepest sentiments and intentions with the one you trust the most, for this realm is your most intimate sanctuary. If a person is uncomfortable in silence and when alone, then that person is uncomfortable with his or her deepest self. It is like being in a room with a stranger; often one will feel awkward, not sure what to say to the person, etc. If you are uncomfortable in silence and when alone with yourself, does that not imply that you are a stranger to yourself? That you only really know yourself through the behavior of others? That you depend for your identity upon how they might see and relate to you? And if so, is it any wonder that such peers can pressure you to do things that might in the end destroy you?

St. Theresa of Avila speaks of seven interiors, that is, seven mansions or rooms that make up the Interior Castle, which is the soul. The purpose of the spiritual life is to make it to that seventh mansion, because within that room, which is the Bridal chamber, one meets one's "eternal spouse". To discover merely the first room, the first mansion, is to discover that there is Someone (the totally Other) within one's deepest interior, and so one is moved to find Him, that is, one is moved to pray in silence and alone. Already, after entering this first mansion, one begins to discover oneself, and one discovers oneself to the degree that he or she descends more deeply into this interior, because soon we realize that our own self-discovery is inseparably connected to the discovery of this Someone who dwells within our deepest interior, who "created me for Himself", and "our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord" (St. Augustine).

Silence is necessary because noise draws me out into the exterior world, which indeed is good and created by God. But this exterior world is not God. He dwells in the "heaven of the soul". I have to spend my life searching for this interior sun that burns within me, a sun that is covered by clouds, a mirror clouded by dirt and grime, but which when clean reflects my true image, that is, my true identity. To enter this seventh mansion is to find the deepest rest (peace) that one can possibly possess - and we are always seeking for rest. The problem with human beings is that they seek this rest in the finite goods of this world (beaches, hot spots, wealth, relationships, etc). These finite goods are genuine goods, but they do not and cannot quench a thirst that is infinite, and the human heart has an infinite thirst. Through lived experience one should discover - unless one lacks self-awareness, which many do indeed lack - that these finite goods do not satisfy, for the heart continues to thirst, to desire, to want. What is it looking for? It is looking for something that will impart rest. But only that which is proportioned to its thirst will give it rest, and if its thirst is infinite, then it is searching for the infinite, an object that it cannot circumscribe or contain, but an object that contains it, because it is larger than it, for it is larger than life, and it inspires and strikes an overwhelming sense of awe into it, because He is Beauty without limits, the source of all that is beautiful, good and true. Anything in this world that is true, good and beautiful pleases and fascinates the soul, but everything other than God possesses only a limited goodness, thus a limited splendor (beauty). Finite goods are only meant to draw one onward towards the source of all that is beautiful. But human beings, in the blindness caused by sin, impatience, lack of temperance, and inordinate love of self, seek their rest in the things of this world, and as a result they never find the peace that they are looking for. In fact, they only wound this world further by their sins, causing more hurt, more pain, more neurosis and stress related illnesses, and more confusion in the minds of the young. And when people become more restless, they become more desperate, and thus the search becomes more desperate, and the noise and clamor of the world increases.

But when you begin to see yourself through the eyes of Him who dwells within your deepest interior, through the eyes of Him who alone matters, you begin to see that although you really don't matter to the world, you do ultimately matter, because you matter to Him, and so it is His gaze that lifts you and fills you with a joy that the world cannot impart; for the world does not know you well, and the world will forget you, and above all, the world does not love you in any lasting and significant way. But He who alone matters has brought you into being for Himself, and the intimacy of marriage is only - and nothing more than - a step towards and preparation for an eternal "marriage" with God who resides deep within you, and who loves you as if there is only one of you.