Godtalk: The Value of Silence


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There is a language beyond words. Silence creates the space for it. Sometimes when we feel powerless to speak words that are meaningful, when we have to back off into unknowing and helplessness but remain in the situation, silence creates the space that’s needed for a deeper happening to occur. But often, initially, that silence is uneasy. It begins as a small frightened thing, and only slowly grows into the kind of warmth that dissolves tension.

There are many times when we have no helpful words to speak. Most of us have had the experience of standing by the bedside of someone who is dying, sitting across from someone who is dealing with a broken heart;  or of reaching a stalemate in trying to talk through a tension in a relationship and finding ourselves tongue-tied, with no words to offer, finally reduced to silence, knowing that anything we say might aggravate the pain. In that helplessness, muted by circumstance, we learn something.  We don’t need to say anything; we only need to be there. Our silent, helpless presence is what’s needed.

This is not something we learn easily, or do at most times when we should. No matter the situation, we usually feel the need to try to say something useful, something helpful that will resolve the tension. Hopefully, we will go on learning, both to let helplessness speak and how powerfully it can speak.

Sometimes our helplessness is the most precious gift we could share with someone. They don’t expect us to have a magic wand to cure their troubles. Silence can become something wonderful that swells and settles, gathering every space into itself.

Peter Knott SJ