"Sprechen ist silbern, Schweigen ist golden." Unless you understand German, that phrase probably means nothing to you. Translation: "Speech is silver, silence is golden." "Silent Cal" Coolidge put the same sentiment in more accessible terms: "I have noticed that nothing I never said did me any harm."
Then there is the silence of another color. It has been said that "Silence is not always goldensometimes it's just plain yellow!"
Silence is a rare commodity in today's world. Everywhere you look, there are people with something stuck in their ears. Whether it's the driver with the cell phone in one hand and, hopefully, the steering wheel in the other, or the teenagers slouching down the mall halls, together though separated by iPods, we are a society that shuns quiet. Commercials shout at us, churches become concert halls, restaurants have music playing and TVs running football games (with the sound turned down, ironically), and businesses play either elevator music on hold or looping ads for services you don't need, as your frustration intensifies over trying to get hold of a real human being.
I have to admit, I had my transistor radio playing while I did my homework. And, when I was alone, I liked having the TV and/or radio and/or cassette player on all day to superficially chase away the isolation. But I've since learned that silence can be our friend.
Maybe André Maurois was right when he said, "Men fear silence as they fear solitude, because both give them a glimpse of the terror of life's nothingness." Whew. That may be a bit over-stated, but perhaps not far from the mark. We seem to have a fear of silence, much as we fear darkness.
Silence can be a mighty weapon, but it can also be an effective tool. When used in anger, silence can hack like a sword. When applied in love, it can heal like a scalpel. Silence can reveal a lot of emotions, from anger (sword) to empathy (scalpel).
Let's examine a few of the multicolored uses of silence.
Solomon said there is "A time to be silent, and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7). So silence is appropriate at times.
There is the silence of awe: "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20). Who has not held a respectful silence when confronted with awe-inspiring scenery or unspeakable horror? Sometimes there are just no words to say. Note the reaction of Job's friends when they saw his affliction: "Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was" (Job 2:13).
There is the silence of guilt. When you're caught, you have no excuse. "(W)hatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19, NKJV).
Silence can inspire contemplation. Parents will often give a disobedient child time to sit quietly, to think about what he's done. Silence can give a confused mind time to settle, like the dust after a windstorm. One effective sales tactic is to keep talking to the client to prevent him from thinking too much about the consequences of his purchase.
Silence can also be used as a test of sincerity. When the Gen-tile woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, "Jesus did not answer a word" (Matthew 15:23). He gave her a chance to prove her faith, which she did with persistence and wisdom. Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted" (v. 28). Sometimes waiting out the silence makes us examine our motives and sincerity.
Silence can easily be amplified. If it's the silence of waiting, it can slow time down to a crawl. The doctor's office. The courtroom when the jury's out. The final grades. When Mom says, "Go to your room 'til your father gets home!" Checking the mail box for "that" letter. Silence does not usually conjure up pleasant expectationsit often breeds paranoia. "What if?" "Did something change?" "What's she up to?"
Except in radio, silence is an important part of communication. Pauses have significance in plays, speeches, sermons, and intense conversations. Even musical notation has rests. Stopping the flow gives punch to what has been said before, and allows it to sink in. A comma, rightly placed, indicates that it's time for a pause, but there is more coming. It can heighten the anticipation of what's coming. When someone says they have something special for you, but won't tell you what it is, doesn't that increase your excitement?
A negative example of that concept is found in Revelation 8:1. Just before the wrath of God lets loose, "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." The calm before the storm.
What does this have to do with anything? We'll have to sit quietly and wait until next Part 2 to find out.
Alan Allegra is a freelance Christian writer in Pennsylvania. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. More articles at Lifestyles Over 50: http://www.lifestylesover50.com/ and the Morning Call: www.mcall.com. Available for writing. LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/alanallegra/
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