[Book Review] The Power of Silence
By Nancy E. Head
"Silence allows man to place himself joyfully at God's disposal. It enables him to overcome the arrogant attitude that would claim that God is at the disposal of his children." (Sarah 121 )
The battle is ongoing and almost universal.
We live noisy lives. And most of us don't know how to find quiet contemplation--or even why we should try.
We dwell with noise all around us--and more importantly without internal silence.
The kind of silence that lets us connect to God.
In The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, Robert Cardinal Sarah takes us to a quiet place and invites us to remain in fellowship with the God of the universe.
A silence that seeks God is not empty. It can happen when we read the Bible, when we pray apophatically--without words, ready to hear what God will say to us, and when we simply rest in Him.
Silence "runs alongside hope, the theological virtue" and produces fortitude, which "drives back all that could prevent man from living in dependence on God" (61 ).
Paradoxically, silence can happen with music, which is "fully listened to when everything falls silent around us and within us" (81 ).
But we are "a world that flees God by taking refuge in the noise," the noise of technology and the clutter of materialism (64 ).
If we are to find silence, we must pursue it. We must pursue it as a quest of will.
Sarah is a Catholic Cardinal from Africa who has seen the devastation and horror of deprivation and oppression. He makes an interesting distinction between poverty, a positive way of living we can choose, and misery, a negative way of life that prompts a Christian response.
"Poverty implies detachment and separation from anything superfluous that would be an obstacle to the growth of the interior life" 169 . Misery is a "parade of misfortunes, against which rebellion is necessary" .
His primary intended audience is Catholics, but every Christian can benefit from his apologetics regarding the existence of evil and why God can seem to remain silent in the face of oppression, disaster, illness, and death.
The book is divided into five sections. The first four contain 365 numbered passages in which Sarah responds to questions from Nicholas Diat, a French journalist and author.
The fifth section continues the conversation without numbered sections and includes commentary from Dom Dysmas de Lassus, a French monastic who echoes Sarah's message of the value of silence.
"Being silent with our lips is not difficult, it is enough to will it; being silent in our thoughts is another matter" (196).
Readers could enjoy the first four sections of the book as a devotional. Some passages are quite short but others are well-developed discussions, sometimes of three or so pages.
Translated by Michael J. Miller, 241 pages in paperback, and published by Ignatius Press, the book is a worthy read.
For silence helps us best see the light that shines in darkness--the light that darkness does not overcome. "Light makes no noise," Sarah writes. "if we want to approach this luminous source, we must assume an attitude of contemplation and silence" (220).