Let wise words from Thomas Merton cast a positive light on a quiet holiday season.
Posted in , Dec 16, 2020
We are living in a time of profound and challenging questions. How will my loved ones and I weather the storm of the pandemic? When will we feel normal again? What is “normal,” anyway? How can I find grace and meaning in this all-too-quiet holiday season?
I encountered this quote from the scholar and Trappist monk Thomas Merton that put those questions into an inspiring perspective.
“There is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question,” he wrote in his journals.
What a profound idea. Silence, rather than being a void or an absence, is a substance, an entity and place of meaning in and of itself. For comfort, we can rest there rather than chasing decisive answers to un-answerable questions.
Silence was a primary focus of Merton’s spiritual philosophy. Elsewhere in his journals, he reflected, “God [is] hidden within me. I find Him by hiding in the silence in which He is concealed.
And still elsewhere, observing the stillness of nature, “From the silence of the valley I can learn that certain questions do not need answers of mine.”
It stands out to me in these quotations that Merton does not try to contain silence, nor does he rush through the time he spends in silence. Instead, he seeks it, dwells in it and returns to it whenever the world pulls him back into its noises and demands. Merton also lets silence humble him. He stands in awe of it. Within it, he finds comfort, peace and even God.
There is a strange silence to this holiday season, among all the gatherings and celebrations that are not happening in anything resembling their typical fashion. If we take our cue from Merton, though, we can find beauty and meaning in the quiet—connecting with a sense of safety of the spiritual, as well as physical, kind.