Learning to appreciate the silence around me

Millie Ronkainen

I spent the first weekend of spring break on a retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia in Nashville. The sisters live a beautiful dual life of apostolic mission and contemplative monasticism.

In other words, they teach at schools in the community,  but return to the Motherhouse for prayers, Mass and spiritual reading. They also spend time each day in silence. There are also areas of the Motherhouse, like bedrooms and stairwells, which are reserved as “silent areas.”

During the retreat, we were encouraged to maintain silence at certain times and in certain places. Walking into silent areas or leaving a retreat talk without chatter felt like entering a refreshing oasis of peace and quiet.

I learned a lot about myself in two days.

The retreat was about grace, our hearts and healing from feelings of inadequacy, something I have struggled with for a long time. I was able to use the silence to reflect on the deepest crevices of my heart. I learned what hurts me, my desires and what fulfills those desires. Most importantly, I learned my self-worth and how much God cherishes me because I am His.

If we had not been encouraged to embrace the silence of the Dominican community, I doubt I would have found peace without the distraction of noise.

A line from a prayer we said really stuck with me: “In the silent hours of the night, bless the Lord.” It reminded me to praise God and bless Him even in the stillness of my heart, when I felt I had nothing left to give to Him.

“Awkward silence” is a phrase I heard a lot over the summer at camp, but I think the mentality that silence is awkward has become more obvious to me over the past couple of years. For example, when we go out to eat and the conversation dies down for a moment, our phones come out. I see people listening to music while they are researching in the labs around my research lab. Silence,  coupled with eye contact,  is avoided because we do not want to feel awkward.

I used to be afraid of silence. Sometimes I still am, mostly because the lack of noise allows me to think. But God speaks to me, to all of us, in our silence. In the book of Kings, God appeared to Elijah in a quiet breeze rather than an earthquake or fire. Mother Teresa, a woman accustomed to living in the chaos of Indian slums, said “In the silence of the heart God speaks … It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself.”

As much as silence feels awkward, it is necessary for a good relationship with God, one filled with healing and love.