“Then the Lord passed by and sent a furious wind that split the hills and shattered the rocks. But the Lord was not in the wind. The wind stopped blowing and then there was an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire. The Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was a soft whisper of a voice. When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his cloak, and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” Kings 19:11-13
For centuries, this passage in Scripture has been influential in a Carmelite’s attitude on silence and solitude. As time passed, I have also understood silence and solitude in this light. As for me, silence is not just a momentary break in the routine of the day in order to seek a quiet place to rest and pray. I understand it as a way of life. It is the habitual inclination of the soul to attend to the presence of God and to listen intently to what he has to say at every moment. Silence is the atmosphere where I am given the time to understand myself, my strengths, limitations and fears. It is the time when God nourishes me the most and makes my soul grow.
There are two elements present in silence, the active and passive. The active part is my continuous effort to discern God’s will using my resources and faculties. Silence is a good medium for that. Then there is the passive element of receiving from God all that he wishes to reveal to me. Silence is necessary for that. There should be external and internal silence. They complement each other. There can be no internal silence unless room is given to the external one. We are made of body and spirit, our internal senses receive their stimulation from the external activities received by the senses. External silence, however, should be animated by internal recollection otherwise it will only be a form of social isolation and self-preoccupation.
Silence is so necessary in religious life because our sole aim is God. Our lives are consecrated so as to make God our only goal in life. God comes to us in “many disguises.” If we are not “sober” and “alert” we will be slow to recognize the ways and forms in which he reveals himself to us. Silence gives us that “single-eye” to see him. Silence unifies our strength. A religious who does not seek silence scatters her energy and makes herself vulnerable to the assaults of the world. Silence is also necessary in religious life because we aspire to model ourselves after Mary “the woman wrapped in silence.” She is the best example of true religious life lived out in silence.