Can you hear God through the noise?

The Lord invites Elijah to witness His presence in 1 Kings 19. As the Lord passes by, Elijah discovers that the Lord is not in a great and strong wind. He is not in an earthquake. He is not in a fire. He is in a whisper.

Visiting family after Christmas, I have been struck at just how difficult it can be to find silence. The world is full of sound. Nearly everywhere I go, silence is absent. Background music plays in an airport terminal. A television blares in a restaurant. Even in a library, beeps chime from books being checked out. We live in a society that adores noise, but constant clatter is not healthy. Multiple medical studies associate noisy work and traffic environments with increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress. [1] 

During my time in the Dominican Order, I have increasingly treasured silence. Silence can be good for you. A 2006 study found that a two-minute period of silence after listening to music resulted in lower heart rate and blood pressure. This reduction even occurred when silence followed slow, relaxing melodies.[2] Advantages of silence are not merely physical but can also be beneficial in other ways. I find it easier to focus on tasks performed in silence. Silence removes distraction and allows time for self-reflection.

Silence is an indispensable quality of our life as Dominicans. “Silence is the guardian of all observance,” according to our Constitutions. Furthermore, we read, silence “contributes greatly to the interior quality of religious life, to peace, prayer, the study of truth and authenticity in preaching.”[3] To make this idea more concrete, silence “is to be carefully observed by the brothers especially in places and at times devoted to prayer and study.” Silence is not absolute, for its own sake, though: “Silence is to be tempered by charity so that it never impedes fruitful communication.”

How does God communicate with us? God, being all-powerful, can do anything. Of course, He can use noise at times, but He tends to speak quietly. Even Jesus makes time for silence. After the feeding of the five thousand, He takes leave of His disciples and goes up the mountain to pray by Himself in silence. In doing so He gives an example for us to follow for our own good.

Consider integrating more silence into your life. Actions do not have to involve large-scale changes. You can start with small steps. Think about beginning your morning with a period of silence, or choose a time of quiet in the afternoon. Turn off the radio in the car. Take out your earbuds between dinner and bedtime.

Listen to the voice of God in the silence.


[1] Chang TY, Jain RM, Wang CS, Chan CC. Effects of occupational noise exposure on blood pressure. J Occup Environ Med. 2003 Dec;45(12):1289-96. doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000100003.59731.3d. PMID: 14665815.
Lusk SL, Gillespie B, Hagerty BM, Ziemba RA. Acute effects of noise on blood pressure and heart rate. Arch Environ Health. 2004 Aug;59(8):392-9. doi: 10.3200/AEOH.59.8.392-399. PMID: 16268115.
Kupcikova Z, Fecht D, Ramakrishnan R, Clark C, Cai YS. Road traffic noise and cardiovascular disease risk factors in UK Biobank. Eur Heart J. 2021 Jun 1;42(21):2072-2084. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehab121. PMID: 33733673; PMCID: PMC8169156.
Zijlema W, Cai Y, Doiron D, Mbatchou S, Fortier I, Gulliver J, de Hoogh K, Morley D, Hodgson S, Elliott P, Key T, Kongsgard H, Hveem K, Gaye A, Burton P, Hansell A, Stolk R, Rosmalen J. Road traffic noise, blood pressure and heart rate: Pooled analyses of harmonized data from 88,336 participants. Environ Res. 2016 Nov;151:804-813. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.09.014. Epub 2016 Sep 28. Erratum in: Environ Res. 2017 Jan;152:520. PMID: 27692672.

[2] Bernardi L, Porta C, Sleight P. Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory changes induced by different types of music in musicians and non-musicians: the importance of silence. Heart. 2006 Apr;92(4):445-52. doi: 10.1136/hrt.2005.064600. Epub 2005 Sep 30. PMID: 16199412; PMCID: PMC1860846. Also see Larsen PD, Galletly DC. The sound of silence is music to the heart. Heart. 2006 Apr;92(4):433-4. doi: 10.1136/hrt.2005.071902. Epub 2005 Dec 9. PMID: 16339810; PMCID: PMC1860853.

[3] LCO 46 § I. 

Br. Luke Maria Lee, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE