The Pontifical Council for Social Communications has announced the theme for the next World Communications Day–May 20, 2012: “Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization.” In its statement, the Pontifical Council highlights the reality that silence is not the opposite of communication, but rather an essential aspect of it.
Silence, interpersonal communication (both nonverbal and verbal), and mediated communication are all important aspects of communication, and I think when balanced well, they form a rhythm in our lives. Silence is often the forgotten aspect of communication, but it is silence that fosters the fundamental communication: with God and with ourselves. Silence gives us the space to “process” or digest what we hear and see. Especially in our world today with the possibility of information overload, silence helps us to sort out what is important and what is not, what to pay attention to, and how to choose to respond. Silence fosters reflection, which, in its essence, is a form of communication with ourselves.
Silence also fosters a different, perhaps deeper, communication with God than we experience when we pray aloud. Silence allows us to listen to God, to receive God’s Word into our hearts and allow its power to transform us. Silence enables us to be attentive to the quiet “nudges” of the Spirit. Silence is, of course, essential for the contemplative life.
One wonderful example of a “silent communicator” is St. Therese of Lisieux. She was a cloistered Carmelite nun, dedicating most of the hours of her day to prayer and silence. Yet, because of her silence, her receptivity to God’s Word within her, and her understanding of the spiritual needs of others, her autobiography is one of the most accessible invitations to holiness. Her writings and spirituality are such a major influence on the Church that she was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997.
Here is an excerpt from her autobiography found in today’s Office of Readings in which St. Therese expresses the depth of the love she feels for Christ and for the world, and the heart and mission of her spirituality: to be love. To be love is the vocation of every human being, and even more so for communicators who seek to uplift people with a message of hope.
Silence really isn’t just for nuns and monks. Silence helps all of us–not to just be in touch with God and ourselves, but to listen more attentively to those with whom we are speaking. In our conversations, sometimes we get too excited about what we want to say, and we forget to listen. The best model that I have found for communication is circular: a mutual giving of self in love, which the others graciously receive and then generously respond to. This mutual drawing of each other into deeper communion can only happen if everyone is receptive, if everyone takes time to listen, if everyone takes turns being silent.
How can silence enhance our communication today? (This is a fitting rhetorical ending, but I’m interested in seeing your responses!)