Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the Executive Director and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
There are key strategies of indirect attack that the enemy of our souls uses to significantly disrupt our spiritual progress. One is the corruption of human sexuality. As the analogy of holy spousal love is one of the most effective in understanding divine intimacy, the enemy desires to corrupt human sexuality in order to further obscure what it means to understand the possibilities of union with God.
Similarly, there is another indirect attack that wreaks havoc on the soul’s ability grow in intimacy with God — noise. In our culture, noise is everywhere. Day after day, our peace is invaded by television screens at gas pumps screaming ads and programming at us, music in stores, and thousands of television, internet and radio encounters that pump this poison into our souls.
Recently, I spent some time with a relative who appears to be spiritually dead. Her daily routine looks something like this: Rise, turn on the TV and get ready. Leave the TV on until daily activities take her from home — time to get in the car and turn on the radio to listen to music or talk radio or to make phone calls. Once back home, turn on the TV again until it is time to go to sleep (or sleep with it on). When I asked if she ever allowed for silence (as she reports that she prays often and is “spiritual”), she guffawed as if I were suggesting she enjoy a bowl of dry oatmeal.
I wish this were different with some of my Catholic friends (who I am sure I will be in trouble with once they read this). I am thinking of one, in particular, who is faithful and who does have a desire to know the Lord. However, she can’t seem to make the time (or exercise the will) to incorporate silence into her life in order to listen, hear and learn the voice of God. She will complain from time to time that she never seems to hear from God, but any suggestion of the need to cultivate silence is met with an irritated glance.
Sometimes we are simply afraid to stop and listen. Coming out of a disastrous youth myself, I had a great deal of emotional pain to deal with. My own thought life was out of control, and once any emotional event invaded my life, those thoughts often ran a torturous course throughout the coming hours, days and nights. Many people suffer these same challenges, such that silence becomes a threat. It becomes a place where we are confronted with those things that God desires to heal — a healing we often resist. For me, the enemy tormented me through the sins of others, then I compounded these sins with my own, and then the master musician of deception proposed a solution that I took hook, line and sinker — noise, distraction, and lots of it. With no silence in my life, I couldn’t hear God’s voice calling and leading me out of the pain. Cycle complete.
Here’s an insightful rant from C.S. Lewis, through the character of the senior demon in his masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters:
Those who understand the realities of how God works and speaks to us know that silence is critical for the health of our souls and to develop any degree of intimacy with God. We must cultivate times of silence daily if we are to learn to hear his voice. If the Lord seems a mere distant reality to you, maybe it’s because the enemy has sucked you into his plan of noisy distraction. He is working overtime to ensure that God’s voice never makes it past the noise you have allowed into your life: the noise of busy-ness, the noise of entertainment, the noise of news, the noise of music (even Christian music), and even the noise of a prayer life limited to vocal prayer (yup).
So maybe it is time to choose to face the silence, even if it means a bit of spiritual surgery. I have never met anyone who has taken this challenge and has regretted it.
We must be still to know that God is, and to find the healing and fulfillment that can only come through a living relationship with him. Ironically, it is when we are surrounded by silence that we can hear the most.
PS: The best audio version of Screwtape Letters ever produced can be found here. You can also find great C.S. Lewis resources at EWTN's Religious Catalogue.