We have two voices in our souls. One is the voice of foolishness and fear, which seeks diversions. The other is the voice of truth. How can we listen to the right voice?
1. The first answer is humility. Merton says, in Thoughts on Solitude, that “humility is in all things silent. Even when it speaks, it listens.”
Where do we go for our model of humility? To the Mother of God, the humblest of creatures even though she had the right to be the proudest. She not only models humility for us, she will, by her supremely humble and therefore supremely powerful intercessory prayers, obtain this great grace for us. She is not just a model, she is a mother; not just a “formal cause” but an “efficient cause,” not just a picture but a power. Satan trembles at her.
2. The Eucharist, and Eucharistic adoration, is a supremely powerful silencer and simplifier of the soul. It is totally simple, single, one-pointed, present, and sufficient. All we need, all we long for, all our hopes and loves, are right there, in “the source and summit of the Christian life,” as the Catechism says.
3. Monasteries are oases of silence in the deserts of noise. They are not for everyone to live in, but they exist for everyone to profit from. They are not escapes or alternatives to life; they are lessons in life, special reminders of universal truths. Three of these truths are silence, solitude, and simplicity of heart. We all need these three things, no matter how active and complex our lives may be.
This need for a monasticism of the heart has never been greater. As life becomes more and more complex on the outside, we need, for the survival of our souls, to become more and more simple and silent on the inside, or we will lose our souls as a leaf is lost in the rush of whitewater rapids.
4. Nature also helps us to listen to the silence because nature’s voice is largely silent. Even its temporary noises come from its constant silence and speak of it. Listening to nature is the easiest kind of listening because nature’s voices are not personal and therefore not personally threatening (unlike human voices). Nature’s exterior silence impresses itself upon our hearts and produces an interior silence. The depths within respond to the depths without.
However we learn to be silent, we must learn. It is not an option. Without silence, we are doomed. Many say we are doomed if we do not abolish the world’s nuclear arsenals. Many say we are doomed if we do not stop climate change.
I say we are doomed if we abolish silence. How much moral insanity, how much hate, how much private and public murder and violence would be prevented if every person in the world spent just fifteen minutes each day in simple, solitary, silent contemplative prayer? Even three minutes is sufficient to transform your life. The most important seconds are the first ones, where the decision is made.