Thursday, January 2, 2014

OneWord 2014: Silence

"We work out our salvation in silence and in hope. Silence is the strength of our interior life....Without this silence, our virtues are sound only, only an outward noise, a manifestation of nothing..." - Thomas Merton

What words do I use to explain why "silence" is my word for 2014? I've been trying for weeks to write this post, but I realize I must rely heavily on the wisdom of others to communicate why I chose Silence this year.

Merton and other contemplatives like Thomas Keating and Richard Rohr write of silence as the place within each of us where we discard our false-selves and the external props we often depend on to "prove" ourselves or our faith. By embracing and fully experiencing our inner silence, we learn to be who we truly are. I've been re-reading portions of Thomas Merton's No Man is an Island, and keep returning to this excerpt:
It is useless to try to make peace with ourselves by being pleased with everything we have done. In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life. We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting an immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition. 
We cannot experience this making "peace with ourselves" or "quiet expression of our inner life," without becoming well-acquainted with our interior silence.

I often feel a compulsion to react to what is going on around me and to fill silence with outward noise. Yet I've realized in the past weeks that I need to withdraw from the impulse to react, so I can explore the true motivations for my reactions. When I am filling space with my own noise, I am not making room for what God may be trying to speak to me in silence, nor what I may need to hear from others speaking out of the silence of their interior life.

Practicing silence doesn't mean always being silent, but it does mean honoring my own silence and the silence of others by not giving in to the discomfort that seeks to fill it without purpose. Practicing silence is one way in which I can learn to detach myself from a desire for others to hear and understand me, in order that I will hear myself and others more clearly and with understanding.

I'm not going to preemptively limit this experience by trying to create a detailed plan. I intend to explore more deeply the practice of contemplative prayer and I may attend some religious services where silence is practiced in community. I hope to go on a spiritual retreat that cultivates silence if I can, but I'm not making that a requirement. I am open to the possibility (read: probability) that my year with silence will be nothing like I'm envisioning right now.

Here is a final excerpt from Merton that I've been meditating on and which influenced me to choose Silence for 2014:
If we fill our lives with silence, then we live in hope, and Christ lives in us and gives our virtues much substance. Then, when the time comes, we confess Him openly before men, and our confession has much meaning because it is rooted in deep silence. It awakens the silence of Christ in the hearts of those who hear us, so that they themselves fall silent and begin to wonder and to listen. For they have begun to discover their true selves. If our life is poured out in useless words we will never hear anything in the depths of our hearts, where Christ lives and speaks in silence. 
I want to fill my life with silence, so that when I speak I am not pouring out useless words, but rather speaking hope to the silence in the hearts of those who hear.


  1. At face value, this is hard for me to wrap my mind around because I associate silence so much with an inability to speak, rather than being able to but choosing not to.
    But the contemplative aspect, that is rich & challenging. The silence of reflection and authenticity: what a good word that is. I look forward to seeing how your year unfolds.

    1. You make a good point about different kinds of silence and that is one aspect I hope to explore this year - the difference of a contemplative silence as opposed to silence out of fear of expressing myself or opposed to having silence imposed on me (women should not teach, etc.). I'm also pondering if my silence can be used to honor or promote the voices of those who often have silence imposed on them, even if that is just by doing a lot of listening. I think silence has a lot to teach me. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

  2. This sounds fascinating. What a good and hard word for the year.

    1. Seems we both took on quite a challenge with our words, didn't we?

  3. A friend of mine, Cristina, sent me your post. My word for 2014 is *silence* too. Thomas Merton is one of my favorite spiritual writers besides the great Carmelite saints. I hope you will visit sometime and read my posts on silence : )



  4. Hi Trischa,

    I thought I left a comment the other day but my mind fails me right now.

    I just joined One Word and my word for 2014 is *silence* too. Thomas Merton has some beautiful writings on silence...he is one of my faves.

    I hope you will be inspired to stop by my blog and read some of my *reflections on silence*. Many blessings on your new year.


    1. Theresa - I didn't get a notice for your first comment until you left this second one! I apologize for the delay. I'm glad your friend sent you my link, as it is encouraging to know someone else has a similar focus for the year. I look forward to reading your reflections.

      Blessings to you as well.