Despite all our highly rational arguments for or against God’s existence, a lot of the time, the issues are far simpler – more an experience than a theory. That experience is simply this: God doesn’t walk into my living room, sit down on the couch and talk to me.
Of course, this absence, or silence, is cause for a rational argument against God. God seems to only “reveal” Himself in highly ambiguous ways: “a still small voice”, interesting coincidences, an ancient book (full of stories of a time in the ancient past where He supposedly did come to humans more tangibly). It’s all so vicarious. If He does exist, why can’t God just be direct, come out, and show Himself, now? The logical answer is, because He doesn’t exist.
But truly, those rational arguments aren’t the real problem surrounding the Silence of God. It’s an experience. It’s the experience of people telling you there’s a God that loves you, you looking around for Him, and not being able to find Him. That hurts. Amidst all the arguments, it comes down to the heart – “He doesn’t talk to me, so I won’t talk to Him.”
Actually, Christians sometimes face that silence, too. When it comes, we question if He was ever there at all. I go through times like that. In one of those times, I found this quote from a Cistercian monk: “Silence is the very Presence of God – always there. But activity hides it. We need to leave activity long enough to discover the Presence – then we can return to activity with it.”
Silence is always around you, it does not leave. It is merely hidden. Ironically, silence is muffled by sound. It does not disappear. It merely waits. It waits for you to stop the noise, and to listen.
Out of all the people in history, we today are the worst at finding silence. I’m terrible at it. I have music, TV, work, cars, my friends, my wife, my kid, always going in my ears. And the few times I could have silence, my mind is noisy – all those things leave a mental “echo”, as my brain recalls song lyrics, conversations. Perhaps my mind sees the silence as an opportunity to get more done. But I suspect sometimes my mind keeps destroying silence, because I’m afraid of it.Silence is so strange, so alien to my life. And it is scary, because if I am not all those things, am I anything at all? I fear silence is a suffocating vacuum.
And what of God? Could God be like the School Teacher, standing silently at the front of the classroom, waiting until the class “settles down” before beginning the lesson? I resent His silence, but is it really there not because He is silent, but because I refuse to relinquish my nice, familiar noises?
There are two solutions for this problem in the Christian tradition. One is the Cistercian monk’s solution. It is to slowly drive the noise away, and wait for the Presence, hovering hopefully, terrifyingly in the Silence. Not long after the previous quote, the monk says: “… I went out on the balcony… The Lord came in power. My whole being longed to be dissolved and be in complete union…. I finally went to bed and continued in the Presence. How I wish my every moment could be in this painful, sweet state.”
That seems to work for him. But it’s very hard for most of us to get there. The other solution is to use things that God has traditionally given people as a “megaphone”, to “amplify” His Presence and drown out the noise. These things include the Bible, worship in Christian community, and good books – the Cistercian’s book has been one of those for me.
The point is, the Presence is there, always there. He is merely waiting for you to hear Him in the Silence. Face the fear of losing all the noise, and enter that Silence.
 Basil Pennington OCSO, The Monks of Mount Athos: A Western Monks Extraordinary Spiritual Journey on Eastern Holy Ground (Woodstock, VM: Skylight Paths, 2003)