The Curriculum of Silence

Senior at Virginia Catholic school prays for cardinals gathered in Sistine Chapel for papal conclave (CNS photo/Matthew Barrick)

Helmets crushing pads, hands swatting volleyballs, music mingling from a homecoming dance, the screech of sneakers across a gym floor: the soundtrack of life on campus. Throughout the day in a typical high school, there is almost constant noise. Even in Catholic and other faith-based schools where prayer is common, students and faculty are not long in repose. Our moments of prayer are preludes to more motion. We rest briefly, then get back on the highway. We are not contemplatives in action, but active people occasionally contemplative.  

In 2012, on his message for the World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. 

As I think of the upcoming academic year and some themes for myself and my students, some kind of anchoring or guiding thought for the next nine months, I keep returning to silence. To stillness. To reduction, not only of the noise of sound, but of the noise of news feeds, email, my own priorities and presumptions. And I want to invite my students and colleagues to do the same, to keep turning down the volume until it's quiet enough to hear that "gentle whisper" (1 Kings 19:12) in whose wake comes the call of God.

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