In the silence of the heart


26 Aug 2015
In 2012, Pope Benedict wrote a letter for the World Day of Communications on silence. It was an unusual departure from the tradition of the previous 10 years, which had focused on the changes in digital media platforms and the Internet.
Yet, I give you some of the opening words of the letter Silence and Word: Path of Evangelisation.
Silence and Word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.
Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves.
Some might think that communication is, as a general rule, not silent. These days in particular, our world is quite noisy. With an ever-growing array of new platforms through which to express ourselves, it can be hard to find quiet.
Many of us communicate in tweets and Facebook messages. I find my phone dinging and clanging and beeping and chiming for all different reasons throughout the day, and even the day’s Gospel is heralded by a bird-like noise, so it’s anything but silent.
I started thinking about silence in the context of relationships though, and wondered about the best relationships I’ve seen. In reflecting on them, I realised that they were seasoned as much by silence as by words, that silence and word were integrated and kept in balance.
I remember my Grandma knitting away while Grandpa read the newspaper. She’d have a scotch and soda (only a thimble of scotch mind you) and he’d have a beer. After 60-plus years of marriage, it was simply a comfortable, wordless exchange.
A priest I know gets up at the same time everyday (probably a lot of them do, but for argument’s sake, let’s look at Fr Ignatius* – not his real name) and makes a cup of weak coffee. He sits in the same spot in the same chapel and goes through the same motion of sitting down on the carpeted floor and doing his version of the Examen.
‘If I fall asleep, that’s nice’, he says, recognising his body probably needs it.
‘Usually God doesn’t say much’, he says, recognising that this relationship spanning over 50 years in religious life isn’t requisite of too much wordy dialogue.
Christian artist Sarah Kroger has a song called In the Silence where she describes the silent places of the heart:
In the silence of the heart you speak,
and your mercy is the air I breathe.
You come to me in whispers
and forgiveness sings.
In the silence of the heart you speak;
Lord, you speak.
To the quiet of this room you come;
I am captivated by this love.
You light these darkened corners,
and I’m overcome.
Audrey Assad, another Christian artist is featured in this week’s #PrayerPod. She has also focused on silence in one of her songs. It’s called You Speak.
You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos
From the chains of a lesser law You set me free
You liberate me from my own noise and my own chaos
From the chains of a lesser law You set me free
In the silence of the heart You speak
In the silence of the heart You speak
Contemplative and apostolic religious alike see the benefit of silence, and most will do at least an eight-day retreat each year. Whether you are a natural mystic or an active person, God is often heard far more vocally in the gentle breeze than the raging storm; God is louder in the silence than the noise.
Often it takes waiting. Often it seems like there is no answer at all. Often we go through our busy lives expecting God to speak into our every day, and realise that it’s been weeks since we have stopped to listen.
Sometimes the noise and panic that emerges during the silence is deeply uncomfortable. We hear our truth.
Yet it’s worth it.
Lord, I pray that you would speak into the silence of my heart, and I thank you for whatever it brings. 
Beth Doherty is the editor of PrayOnline and the author of the new book Tweet others as you would wish to be tweeted. The book can be ordered from or on
Email this Print This Page