Robert Cardinal Sarah and Nicolas Diat,
The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise
Ignatius Press, 249p.
This book has generated a fair amount of comment and recommendation since its release in April. I picked it up a few months ago and recently finished it. I’m currently waiting for my wife to finish it so I can read it again.
Cardinal Sarah was born in Guinea, West Africa. Made an Archbishop by Pope John Paul II and a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, he was named the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis in 2014. He speaks about silence with impressive depth.
“This is the tragedy of the modern world: man separates himself from God because he no longer believes in the value of silence.”
This is not another “social media is destroying our world” book. There is some talk of technology, but that is not the focus. Cardinal Sarah looks much deeper into who we are, who God is, and how we enter into his presence.
One of the gleanings from this book was discovering the Carthusian order. These monks live mostly silent, contemplative lives in prayer. If you want to spend a few hours getting a feel for how they live, check out Into Great Silence.
There are many challenging pages in this book, and as many enlightening ones. His views on poverty were new to me, but profound.
“Most of our troubles result from some form of lack of poverty.”
Sarah draws a distinction between being poor and being destitute. To be poor is to have little; to be destitute is to not have what you need. He points to the blessings of poverty, as espoused by Jesus, as an example of the necessity of simplicity and silence. The two concepts really go hand in hand.
While not a polemic against the entertainment industry, he does have some hard words concerning our cultures, especially in the West.
“Modern existence is a propped-up life built entirely on noise, artificiality, and the tragic rejection of God…societies are sworn to an implacable hatred of silence, which they regard as a contemptible, backward defeat.”
If you fail to notice this — because you are swimming in it — take a week in the woods without being plugged in and then walk into a shopping mall or airport terminal in the United States. The amount of screens and noise is startling. Our society constantly vies for our attention in order to catechize us into libertine consumers.
But the problem is not just our need to unplug and close the door. That is the beginning of the struggle.
“Our interior temple is often so ugly that we prefer to live on the outside of ourselves in order to hide in worldly devices and noises.”
We are used to using noise (be it audio, visual, or both) to distract ourselves from ourselves. When the noise goes away, we are left with our self, and forced to see what is really going on inside of us. This can be very uncomfortable. It is also vitally necessary.
I experienced this the summer between high school and college working in a factory where one of my tasks was to stack thin pieces of metal on a machine and watch while it welded them together. With my earplugs in, I couldn’t hear anything, and the work was dreadfully boring. It forced me into myself in a very uncomfortable way that I did not appreciate at the time. Looking back on it, it was in those interminable hours that I came to some clarity that helped me set my course going forward in life.
“We seek silence because we seek God.”
This is the bottom line of the book. If you are seeking after God, this is a book worth reading. If you find that more podcasts, videos, and seminars are not bringing you closer to God or enabling you to live the life you want, I would recommend this book. Cardinal Sarah has given us a gift in this book. We owe it to ourselves to take some (quiet) moments to read and reflect upon it.
This book is also bound very well for a paperback. It has integrated end-flaps that work well as bookmarks and it has sewn folios that are glued into the binding. What that means is the pages aren’t going to start falling out anytime soon and if you wear the cover off, you can have it rebound.