Intimate Silence

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

It takes a while to get accustomed to noise and São Paulo is a noisy city. Where we live, there is never hiatus from the hustle and bustle of downtown city life. There are always cars honking, loud engines of buses and trucks, the police sirens followed by the blaring ambulances, and not to forget the endless supply of drunk people who think that they have wonderful singing voices. We live on the first floor and there is a stop light just outside our window. Every time there is a red light we are tormented by the music that blares out of the cars. Sometimes people park their cars below our apartment building and blast their favorite music from the car stereos. It almost never the kind of music that I enjoy and most frequently the kind that I detest; such is life. This is a noisy city. It is a typical city. There is never moment of silence.

The children sleep under a highway bridge now. They were kicked out of the square when they had been sleeping for the past three months. They are back under the noisy bridge. It is dark and dirty. Rats and cockroaches are their companions. The highway is always busy day and night. It is a dangerous place for a pedestrian to cross and it is not uncommon for our children to get hit by cars while crossing. The noise is unbearable but they claim that they are accustomed to it. I am not sure if it is possible. Maybe it has become comforting to them.

I have been to the home of a family that lived in extreme poverty but they had a TV and a radio. I don’t believe these were purchased. Someone gave these to them. People tend to be very generous with the non-essentials of life. When we visited them, they had both the TV and the radio on at full volume and yet no one was watching or listening. When we sat down to talk, they did not even want to lower down the volume. Finally, I asked them to turn it off so that we could talk. Then the silence invaded our space as aggressively as the noise. It was quite intimidating. We sat there and faced each other in the uncomfortable silence. It confronted the true nature of our relationship with this family. It was not one that was comfortable to be with each other in the silence. I did not realize this until the noise was gone.

Our time with the children can be uncomfortable sometimes. There are times when they just don’t know what to say to us. They just sit with us in silence. Most of the time, we, the adults, fill this empty space with questions. They are always the same questions. Where do you live? What do your parents do? How long have you been in the streets? Don’t you miss your family? etc. At one point, we convinced ourselves that these questions are essential in building our relationship with them. In reality, most of the children and teens with whom we have a strong relationship have never said anything about their past. Most of my good friends here do not know anything about my life in Singapore and yet this lack of information does hinder us from having a good relationship. Knowing something about someone’s past is just information. We think getting information is the same as knowing someone. It is just like thinking that living in a noisy house is living in a happy home. It is just noisy and nothing more. We ask questions to avoid the awkward silence. We are afraid of it as well. It makes feel inadequate. It makes us confront our true selves. We prefer noise. Noise helps us avoid the real issues about ourselves.

We decided to sit near the children and color in silence. I told the team that we are not going to ask questions anymore. We don’t have to interrogate anyone about their past. It is not natural. Friends don’t bombard each other with questions that probe into their past. Friends recognize the privacy of one’s personal life. We are not psychiatrists nor social workers. We don’t need to know about their past unless they want to share it with us. We have a different reason for being here. We want them to know and recognize the presence of God in their souls and around them. Our God speaks to us out of the silence. Therefore, we sat and waited in silence. As we did this, we communed with God in the innermost part of our being. We faced ourselves in the presence of God within us. It was not easy but it was not hard as well. It was different. Then Alan came and sat next to us. He was quiet and just watched us coloring. After a few minutes or so, he asked if I was choosing a certain color for the background. I told him that I wasn’t sure and then he asked how I decided on the colors. There was no answer to this question. I said that I did not know. It was fine not to know until the time comes. He understood and sat there and watched. Alan doesn’t usually speak to us. Today, he wanted to be just there and watch. He felt comfortable to sit and there and watch us. He was silent and we were silent. We were comfortable. We felt peaceful and then some of children came over and joined us and colored together in silence. It felt nice not to feel that we have to say something. It was nice to be there in the silence with each other and feel complete together even if it was for a moment.

I won’t say that words are not necessary. On the contrary, I would say that words are a gift. However, noises or empty words should not be confused with words that come forth from the silence. It is out of the silence that God spoke the life-giving words, “Let there be Light”. Then He gave us the gift of Sabbath which is a time of silent waiting to listen to the words of Life that comes from the Eternal Light that dwells in our souls.

São Paulo is a noisy city. God is teaching us to find a quiet place in the midst of this noise.