by Dr. Albert S. Rossi
“Silence.” Is that a French word, a Russian word, an Italian word? Sometimes the word “silence” seems like a foreign word to our experience. Especially on a college campus.
Once I drove my son back to college and helped him unpack the car. It was the beginning of the second semester and his roommate was not returning to school. My son asked me to stay overnight in the dorm with him, just to keep him company. I winced because I had a reservation at the local motel and enjoy my solitude. He persisted. I held my ground saying, “I’m allergic to sleeping in a college dorm room.” We went back and forth until I agreed to stay. What to say about my overnight? It was one of the most scattered, and sleepless, nights of my life. His friends all stopped by to say “Hi” and were quite cordial to me. We had some interesting conversations. But, and this is a big “but,” everyone had the stereo on loud, doors open and each stereo had different music blasting. Each room was a different concert hall. I don’t have an apt metaphor for the experience. “Nightmare” seems too mild. All I know is that I got very little, if any, sleep that night. The noise at night was relentless. I suppose I could have adapted but all I knew was that I wasn’t going to have a repeat performance. I would like to be generous and say that my experience was unusual, the first night on a new semester. Perhaps the rest of the semester the corridors are sleepy quiet, the noise level is near zero. Perhaps. Probably not.
There really are two worlds, the outer world and the inner world. Life on a college campus consists of a rather demanding, sometimes smooth and sometime chaotic outer world. The bridge to the inner world can be elusive. Often a bridge doesn’t seem to exist. Let’s start with the basics. Silence is the bridge between the outer world and the inner world. And, silence is a choice.
I will make the bold, if countercultural, assertion that silence is possible on a college campus. I will also make the bold assertion that without some silence there really can’t be a connection with the inner world. And, without a connection to our inner world we cannot have a stable, purpose-driven outer life. Why? Because meaning and purpose come from the inner world. Without a strong inner world, silence, we can be adrift in the multitude of forces pulling us for our attention. So, the first step towards having silence on a college campus is wanting it. Before I go after something I must want it.
Why would I want silence? Silence is our entrÃ©e, out access to God within us. Silence is our connection with our real self. With silence we have an identity. If we have a connection with God with have a connection with deep peace and joy. We have a connection with our “self.” Why? Well, because we are made in the image and likeness of God and if we are not connected with Him we are not connected to our selves. Hence, many people are experiencing an identity crises. They are hankering to find out who they are.
A large part of the college experience is establishing a new and viable identity. During the college years we can grow up into that more mature young woman or young man we want to be. Or, we can also fritter away the time and finish college without much emotional development. I am slowly making the claim that identity and emotional growth pivot on silence since silence gains entry to our inner world, the sanctuary where God abides.
Making Silence Happen
If I start to see the value of silence and begin to want more silence where do I start? I start by asking Christ to lead me into more depth in my life, more silence. He can do for me what I can’t do for myself. Campus life hardly allows much silence. There don’t seem to be the “spaces” between activities to have any silence.
I can start small. I can decide to sit quietly somewhere safe and somewhere I’ll be alone. Perhaps a library carrel, or in my car, or on a park bench, or in a spot known only to me. Yes, the place to begin is to choose a place for silence.
Then, I can choose a discipline. I certainly can talk to my spiritual father about a sensible silence discipline during my college years. But, unless there is a proactive discipline, a clear desire and decision, silence simply will not happen in and of itself. Nope. Can’t happen.
I might be tempted to say, “There is no time to be silent. I barely have time to brush my teeth.” OK. Let’s look at these statements. For starters, I would say that if am “too busy to be silent” then I am simply “too busy.” The problem isn’t time. The problem is “busy,” my choices of what to do and not do.
Sanity, which is not different from sanctity, is a process of subtraction, not addition nor multiplication nor division. We begin by subtracting those things that block us from getting the goals we want. We eliminate the “unnecessary extras,” the mental and activity-clutter from our daily lives. Truth be told, there really is some activity-clutter in college life.. We need to focus and identify the unnecessary things we are doing to make room for silence.
I have been making a case that silence is desirable and necessary as part of the college experience. What can I expect if I decide to be more silent? In a word, I can expect trouble. Literally, all hell will try to block my efforts. Christ’s love and power is greater than “all hell.” And, we can be heroes, choosing the more difficult, but more courageous path, for the good of ourselves and others, and to the glory of God.