The words the happy say
Are paltry melody
But those the silent feel
Are beautiful –
(Emily Dickinson)

SOME MEANINGS EXPRESS THEMSELVES IN WORDS, WHILE OTHERS ARE SIMPLY FELT IN SILENCE. Not everything we think or feel ends up being clothed with words. Many of the matters in our hearts — even many of the worthiest — are content to rest there silently. And if, as we are told, there is a time to speak and a time to be silent, the time of silence is often more beautiful than the time of speaking. Happy words can hardly compare to the deep joy of meaningful silence. Edward Hoagland said it well: “Silence is exhilarating at first . . . but there is a sweetness to silence outlasting exhilaration, akin to the sweetness of listening and the velvet of sleep.”

Amid the noise of our communicative age, I sometimes wonder if many of our friendships wouldn’t be improved by a little silence. Emerson once said, “Hospitality consists in a little fire, a little food, and an immense silence.” To me, there’s something immensely comforting about that image: the silent enjoyment of rich relationship.

But even if friendships wouldn’t be helped by silence, I’m quite sure that our thinking processes would. It’s hard to learn very much when we’re talking, and communication often hinders consideration. “In quiet places, reason abounds” (Adlai Stevenson).

When we express our thoughts and feelings in words, we can hardly avoid limiting them. As wonderful as words are (and as necessary as it often is to utilize their power), our words are imperfect and finite, and they can never fully or perfectly convey all that is in our hearts. The profoundest of our thoughts, those that connect us to the transcendent things that exist beyond us, would be nearly impossible for us to capture in words. And so sometimes the best that we can do when contemplating the most important things is to drink deeply of their meaning in our own minds — resisting the temptation to talk. Indeed, the closer we make an approach to reverence, the less inclined we will be to speak. In the silence of awe, we will listen.

“Speech is of time, silence is of eternity” (Thomas Carlyle).

Gary Henry — +

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