I have this neat trick that I can do. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and feel my brain. That is, I experience an idea as a physical entity, leaping from left to right, pounding against my skull from the inside. An action potential in the central nervous system: calcium ions firing, neuro-transmitters leaping across synaptic gaps, linking the present day with a far distant memory, giving rise to new, never-before-considered solutions to the day’s problems.
This cranial super-awareness is not something that came naturally to me. In fact it took me something like half a century to become so familiar with my brain’s self-indulgent rampages, to understand the ebb and flow of feelings and ideas and emotions so fully, that I could accompany a neuron on its frenzied path, coursing through the hippocampus from left to right, replacing one ersatz thought with its logical superior.
How did I do it?
Silence. Silence. Silence.
Turning off the TV and the radio, closing the car windows, closing my office door. The pulsating excesses of laughter, of earnest debate, of laugh tracks and pop music and car horns—all have their appointed time. But I find that nowadays what I need is time, great gobs of time, to spend with myself. Just me, myself, and I.
In that small, still world of the self, I can reflect on the cosmos, imagine the future, grab and squeeze a word until it’s tranquilized on paper. I can experience God’s dynamic presence.
I think that’s what Pope Benedict is talking about in his just-released message for the 40th Annual World Day for Social Communications. “Learning to communicate,” he writes, “is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak.” The world reacted with surprise to his message, entitled Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization; but on second thought, we all see the wisdom in his words. When modern communication makes so much information available, when we can idle away our hours on Facebook and Twitter and Google+, we must stoke the furnace with periods of grace-filled quiet.
The Pope reminds us:
“…people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware. If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive.”
“Preach the Gospel always,” said Francis of Assisi. “And when necessary, use words.”
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In keeping with tradition, the papal message for the World Day of Social Communications is released four months early on January 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists.
The 2012 World Day for Social Communications will be held on May 20.