Listening to Sacred Stillness: Hearing the Suffering in the Silence


The Suffering in the Silence

As we listen to sacred stillness we hear the suffering in the silence all around us.

The people without voices cry out to us. We hear them in the sacred stillness as they live  hungry and thirsty, longing for a home. While others are too busy to listen we hear them begging for, and demanding, justice and mercy.

We hear the weakened cries of people who need our help, who need us to pay attention.

Sacred stillness is filled with the whispers of people in pain. People we know, our families and friends, and people we have not yet met. We hear the deep pain of people struggling to recover from addiction and fear. The words they dare not say out loud reach us as we listen to sacred stillness.

We hear people with lives devastated by disasters which are natural, and those made by us. Listening to sacred stillness brings their voices to us, even if we are usually too busy to hear.

The silent voices of people wounded and killed by violence ring out in sacred stillness. We hear the crying people against whom people have been violent, and the people who committed the violent. Sacred stillness carries their anguish beyond expression to our ears.

We listen to stillness filled with silent voices. The cries of people held in slavery as well as those of people living in the midst of war. We hear genocide and sexual abuse, racial hatred and injustice of every kind in the stillness.

The suffering in the silence fills our hearts as we listen to sacred stillness. We may surround ourselves with distractions, but the suffering is still there. As much as we try to distract ourselves, we can hear the suffering in the silence when we open ourselves to listen.

Is There Hope for Those Suffering in the Silence?

The suffering in the silence we hear when we listen to sacred stillness is not limited to people. When we open ourselves to listen the pain we can hear how overwhelming it is. All of the earth, all of the universe, struggles with pain and suffering and death.

The names of some places have become almost synonymous with suffering. Places like Buchenwald or Hiroshima, the World Trade Center or Bir al-Abed remind us.

When we listen to sacred stillness we can hear the suffering in the silence.

What can we do in the face of such insurmountable conflict and struggle? What hope can we offer, even to ourselves?

One of the most essential questions people ask about spiritual life is about suffering.

If spiritual life is so powerful and so full of love, why is there so much suffering? Suffering seems to be so far beyond our control; where is there room for hope?

These are challenging and complex questions. They demand we spend some time and energy reflecting on them.

I do not know why there is suffering in our world, but believe people cause most of it.

Suffering seems to be ubiquitous and commonplace. It does not seem to me we need to spend more time trying to assess responsibility for suffering. We can focus on finding room for hope.

The first step, for me, is that in listening to sacred stillness we hear the suffering in the silence. As we listen, we take our place with those who are suffering.

When I feel I am suffering, I have a disheartening sense I am alone, abandoned. Suffering feels so overwhelming because it seems no one else is paying attention.

Even if we cannot practically relieve suffering, we can pay attention.

Hearing the Suffering in the Silence

One of the essential truths of spiritual life is we are not alone.

We take time to listen to sacred stillness and we can hear the suffering in the silence. As we let go of the distractions and diversions which capture our attention we begin to hear. We listen, and those who are suffering in the silence are not alone.

It may be a challenge for us to listen well and share in their suffering. We may feel overwhelmed or get distracted.

We listen to sacred stillness and consider what we hear as we listen. Hearing the suffering in the silence connects us to it and makes it real for us. We reflect on the truths of what we hear and draw meaning from it.

Our next challenge is appreciating how to apply what we learn from our listening.

The choices are ours to make. We may choose based on what we analyze in our minds, making clear decisions. It could be that we choose based on what we understand in our hearts.

Some of us may choose to ignore or rationalize away what the stillness tells us.

Each of chooses how we will translate what we hear into how we take action.

Responding to the Suffering in the Silence

We may or may not be responsible for causing the suffering in the silence. We are, though, responsible for how we respond.

It may take us time to decide what we will do. We may not leap up into immediate action. There are options to consider and wise paths to discern. There may be more listening and reflection for us to do.

We cannot, though, wait forever.

When we listen to sacred stillness we hear real suffering in the silence. It is neither our imagination nor an exaggeration of the pain we hear.

There are people who assume listening to sacred stillness is an effort to escape reality. Some people believe spiritual life is an attempt to justify or rationalize the suffering.

My experience teaches me differently.

We listen, contemplate, and reflect on the deep truths all around us and within us. When we take time to listen to sacred stillness, it is not distractions we hear.

Listening to sacred stillness we hear the suffering in the silence. What we hear draws us out of our comfort and into how we respond.

What do you hear when you listen to sacred stillness today?

How will we respond to the suffering in the silence we hear this week?

[Image by emily mucha]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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