Encounter God in the silence

by Joshua Gow


“The Power of Silence” by Robert Cardinal Sarah. Published by Ignatius Press. 249 pages.

When I am able, which is usually during the summer months when school is not in session, I frequently find myself listening to Dr. Ray Guarendi on Real Presence Radio. I have learned a great deal from Dr. Ray on parenting and life in general. One piece of advice that Dr. Ray gave really struck a chord with me.

He suggested rather than keeping heaps and piles of books that you have read (or, more accurate for me, are hoping to read), we should instead only hold on to the books that we have read and were so profoundly moved by that we would read them again. As a bibliophile myself, this notion initially struck me as blasphemous. As I get older and return to this idea, I see a great deal of brilliance in adhering to this form of radical poverty.

The book I review for this month, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by Cardinal Robert Sarah stands as one of the few books I believe belongs on everyone’s single bookshelf. This work truly is a masterpiece and a powerful invitation for reflection and self-examination. If the reader follows deliberately and patiently, he or she will find this work to be a silent retreat compiled in a single volume – a means for retreating from the world and effectively integrating encounters with the living God into our daily lives.

Written in response to a world that is growing increasingly noisy (and in a United States that seemingly respects the sacred noise rather than the sacred silence), Cardinal Sarah’s work serves as a stark reminder of our Christian tradition of silence by delivering a wake-up call for our minds, grown dull from the cacophony surrounding us.

As the first move of this spiritual retreat, Cardinal Sarah paints a vivid picture of the world, showing emphatically the trouble that we are in. We have abandoned silence all together, preferring the noise of music, instant streaming videos, and the bright lights of backlit cell phones and computer screens. When we take in the keen insight of the world Sarah offers, it becomes easy to see how we have fallen for a culture of noise, one that offers little time for reflection and listening to the voice of God.

After offering this image of the world, Cardinal Sarah proceeds to give the prescription to the problem: a return to silence. This return is not easy. Our brains are so acclimated to noise that entering into silence has become quite a chore and a bore. But the need to enter into this sacred state of receptivity is essential, even to our very survival. Ultimately, the soul on this journey seeks to hear the voice of the Beloved calling out to him, a voice that, Cardinal Sarah urges, can be heard.

In outlining the need for silence, Cardinal Sarah also spends a thorough amount of time speaking on the need for the sacred and grand silence within the liturgy. His words are strong, and could provide a stumbling block for some, but are spoken in a spirit of charity and truth and invite a prayerful response on behalf of the faithful.

Having identified the problem and the solution, the reader will find himself or herself now steadily immersing themselves in silence. But what happens when God is silent? How can the God who loves us leave us to suffer in silence? This question is no easy one and has bothered both theologians and philosophers for centuries. Cardinal Sarah, drawing upon this rich tradition of writings, offers a thorough response to the difficulty we all will face in the road to silence: the silence of God the Father.

The reflection thus far forms the substantial majority of the work and offers a beautiful outline for a person seeking a spiritual journey to living a better life. The concluding portion of the work involves a detailed interview conducted with Cardinal Sarah and Dom Dysmas de Lassus, the prior general of the Carthusian Order based out of Le Grand Chartreuse in the French Alps. I cannot offer any words that will do justice to the dialogue between these two men, but to the one who has consumed and seeks to live out Cardinal Sarah’s work, this conversation will provide great food for the journey.

In short, I cannot recommend this work by Cardinal Sarah enough. I encourage reading the work slowly and meditatively, taking opportunities to practice the silence it preaches. Keep this work on your one bookshelf, in a place where it can be revisited often.

Joshua Gow is married to his best friend, Jackie Gow, and enjoys family life with their two born and one unborn children. He is in his fifth year of teaching at Shanley High School and will graduate with a M.S. in Bioethics in April.