Silent Spaces, Silent Times

by Albert Rossi, Ph.D.

I am trying something new with my thirteen-year-old son, Tim. Whenever we’re riding together in the car, he gets the radio half the time, and I get it the other half. He chooses music for his time, which is usually the first half of the ride. Then coming back, after listening to a few minutes of news, I choose silence.

Getting half the radio time was an act of courage for me, having frittered away my rights some time ago. I had allowed Tim to have the radio rights, while I tried to ignore his music.

Tim and I have discussed silence and have agreed that we can both be perfectly comfortable riding for long distances without talking. That takes the edge off needing incessant noise to compensate for the fact that we don’t have much to say right now. Silence is okay for us.

When I was a boy, my father would sometimes ask me to “sit” on the porch swing with him. Sitting with my father meant swinging in total silence for ten or fifteen minutes. He would then say, “Thanks,” and I was free to go. It was a dad/son time, just him and me. And although I sometimes found it awkward, I must admit that I enjoyed the peace and forced intimacy. Time stood still. I would not have offered or freely chosen such silence; yet I was glad he suggested it in a way I couldn’t easily refuse.

As we parents age, hopefully we choose silence more. Choosing silence means being attentive to the still place within our hearts. We can choose this still place when we shower in the morning, while driving the car, or when we have a few moments in the evening.

It is good for our children to see us silent. My children sometimes find me quietly meditating. At first, it was embarrassing for me and for them. Now they shrug it off as, “Dad doing his thing.”

Silence allows us to be present to God through the prayer of the heart. For me, this means saying the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,” as I inhale and, “have mercy on me a sinner,” as I exhale. Throughout the prayer, I am attentive to my breathing and the beating of my heart. Through the ages, great saints have found the Jesus Prayer to be a powerful experience within the silence.

When my wife was alive, she once said to me, “How can you write articles on silence when your teenage daughter, whose stereo is always on, has a sign on her wall that says, ‘Everyone is entitled to my opinion’?” This was a valid point. Perhaps we all need to be more conscious of the role of silence in our lives and strive to include more quiet and prayerful spaces.

One place for us to begin is to discuss the role of silence in our family. I kiddingly refer to my nineteen-year-old daughter as a “telephone addict” and to my thirteen-year-old son as a “music addict.” This gives us a starting point for further conversations about silence in out lives.

We Americans generally admire extroverted personalities. It might even be said that we idolize extroversion. We are easily drawn to the persuasive speaker, the entertaining gossiper, the charming conversationalist, apart from what he or she might be saying. We place high priority on the skill of assertion and easily admire those who “take a backseat to no one.”

But the idolization of extroversion and assertiveness by adults is, I believe, the foundation for tolerating and encouraging promiscuous behavior in children.

In our family, we are adding a moment of silence to our common prayer before supper. We are also trying, with mixed results, not to answer the phone during supper. At Christmas and Pascha, we gather in the living room before the evening meal and extend the quiet time to half and hour. Afterward, we discuss what the feast means to us at this point in our lives.

Perhaps what we need to do most is to pray… and pray… and pray. We need to pray to be given new and creative ways to recapture silent spaces and silent times within our family life. It may very well be that the quality of the life of the Holy Spirit in our family life depends upon our desire and skill to find ways to face Him, as a family, in silence as well as in dialogue; in quiet times as well as in activity. X

Originally published in Ligourian magazine’s “Parent to Parent” column, Dec. 1994, and reprinted with permission from Ligourian, One Ligouri Drive, Ligouri, MO.

© 2000 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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