During my stay in the seminary, there were moments during the day we would observe the rule of silence. The rule of silence did not only mean keeping quiet but also being mute, speechless and not uttering a word. We were not allowed to talk. There times we would not speak a word for days on end like during retreats or during the Holy Week. It is a discipline I have come to appreciate and still practice today. That is, not talking and not saying a word.
There are times when there are no words to capture or describe an experience. And it is best to just live in the moment and fully relish it. The mystics have a word for it – the ineffable. Many times during prayer, I just sit in silence before the ineffable. It is the same feeling when I stand before a magnificent scenery, or hold a baby in my hands, or lose a loved one either to death or separation.
There are other times when words seem inadequate or superfluous. A loved one is in pain and no words can relieve the suffering better than a touch or an embrace. Words just get in the way. My presence is the only comfort and support I can give. During such times, the words from a favorite song ring so true, “You say it best when you say nothing at all.”
There are also times when I get hurt by another and there is nothing more I would want to do than to let out all the vitriol boiling within me and let the other person have it. I am very careful during such times. I am afraid I will cause irreparable damage to a relationship or that I will hurt the other person even more than he has hurt me. During such times, I choose to keep silent and not utter a word. I just wait for the tempest within me to pass.
Silence can be golden. And there are times when there is more wisdom in something unspoken than in all the fancy words I can think of.
My mouth shall be filled with your praise, and I will sing your glory!
~ Psalm 71
Then Zechariah said to the angel,
“How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
And the angel said to him in reply,
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah
and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.
He was gesturing to them but remained mute.