You’ll find it written on several signs throughout one of the major hospitals in New York City: “Quiet helps our patients rest and recover.” Some floors of the hospital also promote a daily “quiet hour” from 3:00 to 4:00 each afternoon with the slogan: “Quiet hour promotes wellness and healing.” Taking the point even further, one floor features posters praising the benefits of “Quietude.” Whether the words are real or made-up, the hospital staff does make an important point: amidst the noise and bustle of the contemporary world, some time spent in silence is therapeutic, and not only for those in the hospital, but for us all as well.
Today, however, silence is hard to come by, as a walk down a typical city street will readily show. Blaring car horns, rumbling construction equipment, passing subway trains, and countless cell phone conversations do battle with earbuds and headphones, layering sound, upon sound, upon sound.
Amidst all this noise and our struggle to drown it out with more noise, a desire for true quiet still tugs at the heart of each of us, the kind of quiet that takes away the stress and pressure of our bustling everyday lives and that lets us relax and refresh our bodies and our souls. Such places of “quietude” can be found, even within New York City—places where we not only find rest from this weary world but often come to an encounter with God.
Jesus entreats his Apostles, and us in turn, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mk 6:31), inviting us to experience his presence in this quiet, whether for an extended retreat or just for a short break from our busy day to spend some time in prayer. The absence of the sounds and noises that often fill our lives can lead us to focus on things above.
This contemplation of our God, who cannot be encapsulated in the sounds of earthly experience, often arrives unexpectedly. God might sometimes make a sound that drowns out the noise of the world around us, but more often than not, He comes near to us in silence. Elijah sought God in the fire, the earthquake, and the mighty wind, but God spoke only in the ‘still, small voice’ (1 Kgs 19:12). In these times and places of silence, we hear the voice of God, offering us insight and peace—if only we are willing to listen.
The hospital patient trying to escape the noise of televisions and instruments, nurses and examiners, is not so different from the rest of us struggling to rise above the constant din and distraction of our busy world. We all could use some time in quiet and stillness to heal our bodies and pacify our souls. For it is in the “quietude” that we hear the “still, small voice” of our eternal God.
Image: The New York City skyline as seen from the Corpus Christi Monastery of Dominican Nuns