Some say that silence is a friend. Or is it darkness? I can never remember… my observation, nevertheless, is that silence is least often a friend and more prevalently an unwelcome enemy. In silence, I’ve found an arena for self-doubt, despair, and what many professionals might casually term “spiralling”. In silence is loneliness… and too often those white-wired earbuds act as our lifeline and solace. We tune out the crowded silence of our own thoughts and substitute it with the white noise of BBC world news, or that podcast everyone is talking about but you can’t get into, or a shuffled playlist of music you’re sick of. Anything is preferable to your own thoughts- or to the stillness of nothingness when you’ve hoped and prayed for actual direction.
Are we the creator of silence? Is God? Is it a combination of both of us? Something I read recently in the Book of Mormon prompted me to reconsider the magnitude of this curse silence. I read it and searched in other books of scripture for similar instances and noticed a pattern.
Silence in the scriptures precedes miraculous growth, revelation and salvation. Could it be that we can learn to embrace the same?
In 3 Nephi the earth is prepared to receive the resurrected Christ. Nature mourns the vile treatment of the living Jesus across the seas. The earth is torn and burned. It shakes and whole cities are ripped apart and crumble to dust.The ocean swallows up another city, and other parts of the land are destroyed by fire. It’s chaos and it’s loudness for days until the earth and its remaining people must have been stretched and fearful and exhausted. In a quick subsidence, darkness rolls in, and the remotely placed voice of the Lord schools the people. He clears up the confusion of the last few chaotic days and states the destruction of many wicked people. He announces that the law of Moses is fulfilled. It’s a quick recap to get all of the people up to speed with shocking and unbelievable news. Lastly, the lord’s voice invites a change: come unto me and be saved. Then:
Imagine that cliffhanger.
Alma the younger went about with the purpose of destroying the Church, loudly dissenting and creating upheaval in many lives. Confronted by an angel of the Lord, he and his companions were schooled, chastised and invited to “seek no more to destroy the Church”: change. Be better. And then came this crippling, debilitating silence as Alma’s mortal frame vacated consciousness for a period of short silence. King Lamoni likewise slipped into a coma of retreat so that the spirit might teach and prepare him to be the godly ruler the people needed. Meanwhile his people were left bereft of direction, in the quiet of uncertainty.
The boy Joseph Smith knelt in prayer, bringing with him to that grove of trees an inquiring mind and contrite heart. But before he was to see the face of God and His son, first Joseph was seized upon by some force enclosed in darkness that actually pushed him into an involuntary silence,
I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
In the silence, Joseph qualifies for the respite. A struggle ensues and Joseph is set apart by accomplishing something we see rarely in scripture: he struggles and succeeds in breaking the silence with a plea for refuge.
Struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane, even the saviour of the world is left alone and separated from God for a moment.
Isaiah 53: 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
Is silence a measure of our mortality? A reminder that we’re subject to both Godly law, and the adversary’s ability to bruise our heel (so to speak)?
I’ve pondered about those remaining nephites in their hours of abandoned quiet. What must have gone through their individual minds?
Fear, disbelief, confusion that could have felt as loud as the crumbling cities around them in previous hours. Were those hours of silence filled with dread and self examination? Were they filled with prayer and pleading like Joseph had been? Was it that shocking silence that’s so acute you can hear your own heartbeat, the blood thundering through your ears? Were they hours of personal schooling where each spectator sat in a cocoon of personal revelation and preparation, or were they each desperate to consult with one another but were involuntarily caught in a Babylonian sphere of inability (Jeremiah 51: 55)?
Had I been there, what would my concerns have been? Would I have qualified for the privilege of allowing the spirit to reign in that moment? Would it have been a time of reflection and discernment?
Here’s some insight to how others handled the silence. In David’s Psalm, a peaceful and faith-filled patience:
62: 1Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation.
2 He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved [out of silent waiting]
46:10 be still, and know that I am God
In the silence, we are promised that the Lord will fight for us:
Exodus 14: 14 The Lord shall fight for you, [when] ye shall [be silent].
Job 13: 5 O that ye would altogether [be silent]! and it should be your wisdom.
What we can determine without conjecture is that this great preceding moment in the ruined americas was a powerful piece of symbolic teaching and contrast. From the bright and ear-splitting tumult came thick darkness, necessary to heighten the sense of sound as the people were confronted with the voice of the saviour. Their senses were honed and focused on that quiet voice. Then, plunged into silence, stripped of all senses, the darkness must have felt even darker. But this was necessary to symbolise the death of Jesus and what that separation means for the mortal world. The uncertainty that things would ever be ok again was needed.
The waiting, anticipation, preparation was needed.
It was a time that maybe many wasted in fear, but that many would have used to seek the spirit in the darkness using senses they’d never exercised before. We’d probably name this faith.
How much more appreciated, understood, valued, would that pillar of light have been then, after such a bereavement! The relief must have felt tangible, physical, thorough. I imagine it would feel as though you were seeing with your eyes for the first time. In a small way, the people were each born again, each of them effectively risen again from the tomb they’d been trapped in.
There have been moments of great silence in my life, conjured by God, perhaps, or someone else I’ve known, or even myself. One particular moment I remember on my knees, really pleading for direction, clues, some-any!- confirmation. It felt like I was on the edge of despair, reaching out for a lifeline… and nothing. I’d felt cheated and unloved. Furious, in fact, that I hadn’t been “heard”. I couldn’t have been, because naively I felt entitled to grandiose spiritual confirmations I hadn’t earned.
Looking back, I can see the great need for me to experience that pit of discomfort and unease. I remember my knees, uncomfortably folded, the scratchy carpet irritating and distracting. My attention to that filled my silence until I concluded that though I’d remained there for hours, silence was all I was earning.
So what now, I thought.
And the silence was the making of me.