Silence (noun) 1. the absence of any sound or noise; stillness; the state or fact of being silent; muteness; absence or omission of comment --Random House Dictionary
Time stopped and then there was silence. That’s the only way I can describe my gut response and sense at the exact second I heard the news about the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday. It was that rare spiritual moment when it seemed as if the whole world was hushed and the minutes ceased to tick away on the clock. The earth stopped rotating from day to night. Everything froze up in mute disbelief.
When something so awful, so overwhelming, so horrendously unreal happens, that’s our human response. The circuits in our brains fill to overload with information we can’t compute. Our hearts fill to breaking with truth we cannot face. It is all too much. All we can say is, “Oh my God.” All we can ask is “Why” and confess we may never, ever receive an answer.
If I had but one piece of spiritual wisdom to offer to all of us in the wake of this event, and the far too many like it which now happen on a regular basis, it would be that we need silence. Silence and space. To grieve. To weep. To wonder. To worry. To be broken but together in our brokenness. Silence: to light a candle and to pray for ourselves, personally and collectively, and for the victims, for that community.
Silence and space. Unless we’ve lost a loved one in similar circumstances, none of us can ever even come close to fathoming the grief and pain of Newtown parents and grandparents and educators and neighbors and classmates and first responders. None of us. We are so far removed as witnesses to this tragedy. We are bystanders at best and we need to honor this sacred boundary.
But the truth is there may be no such boundaries in our culture anymore. There certainly hasn’t been since the millisecond the Newtown news broke and for that I worry greatly for our world. It’s now all sound and noise and clatter 24/7. We’ve been drowning under a torrent of knee jerk opinions, presumptuous pontifications and blatantly political declarations since the 14th. I am exhausted by this. I just need some silence to take it all in, to think. How about you?
I get that all of us have thoughts about the event. That’s normal. Yet in 2012 do we really have to immediately share these ideas so publically, so instantaneously, so loudly, on Facebook and on Twitter? On “The Today Show” and “Fox and Friends”? From pulpits and in press conferences? I am spiritually suffocating under the weight of our national inability to be thoughtful anymore, to be silent, if just for one second, when it comes to our plugged in lives.
Then there is also another weirdness in our culture to lay on top of all this. Why do we have to now so vicariously, digitally, quickly enter into the suffering of others? Is it about them? Is it about us? The motives may be good but the results are unsettling. This too has haunted me in the days after Newtown.
It is as if none of us knows how to be silent anymore. How to possess an unshared opinion or thought. How to keep raw and unformed ideas to ourselves for just awhile. How to hold a precious and tender hope or grief between us and our God in silent prayer. How to give ourselves and others the silent space they need to just be. Instead we now bury each other in an avalanche of digital information with no time to pause or ponder or be still.
Human life is far too big, messy, awful and awe-filled to be parsed immediately, to be opined or dissected or understood in the seconds it takes to make a status update or send a tweet or post on a blog or write a news story. Six days after Newtown I feel as if even these words are so woefully inadequate.
Silence. Space. Quiet. That’s what we all need right now. In the words of Christina Rossetti’s Christmas hymn, “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.”