A Unique Variety Of Solitude

     It’s not that long ago that I wrote:

     “The worst” is the noise. The perpetual din. The endless screaming, wailing, moaning, hectoring, begging, and cursing. The ceaseless demands from politicians. The carping from the unsatisfied. The orations of the world-savers. The unending gimme gimme gimme of those who want something they can’t get for themselves and will never realize that no amount of free stuff will make them happy. And of course, the “media” of all varieties, every one of which insists that we must all stay right-up-to-the-minute on What’s Happening Now. Yes, including the bloody Internet.

     The great need of our time is silence. We’re starved for it. The din is making us crazy. We’re unable to cope with its relentlessness. And the greatest of all ironies is that in nearly every case, we collaborate in our own deprivation.

     I felt it again, at maximum intensity, as I rose and prepared to confront the day.


     A couple of “of course” statements for you:
     If your world is not silent, you are under pressure to speak – to join the din.
     If you comply, you forfeit the possibility of interior silence.
     Prayer requires interior silence.

     You already knew all that, didn’t you? Some don’t. Some would be surprised by it. Some, in their surprise, would become indignant. Ironically, the most common indignant reaction is “Don’t you think I know that?” Feel free to chuckle.

     God will not join our conversations with others. He won’t even speak to us if we’re muttering to ourselves. He insists on our absolute, uncompromised attention. The Creator of all things considers His will important enough that it not be asked to compete with any other signal. The requirement for silence follows naturally. But silence is becoming an ever more elusive quality.

     If you’ve been having trouble praying, or have suspected that your prayers are mere rote exercises with no true significance, a deficit of silence might be the explanation.


     It was once the custom for a Catholic family to establish an oratory — a small room for prayer and spiritual meditation – somewhere in its home. By custom, one using the oratory was not to be disturbed for anything non-urgent. (“Urgent” in this application does not mean “you’re about to miss your favorite show.”) Oratories are less common today for various reasons, including the diminished size of family homes. Yet they were a significant practice, in that they recognized that one of the keys to achieving silence is solitude.

     When we’re with others, we tend to fill the air with sound. It might be conversation, or music, or the sort of sound generated by other activities. Whatever the case, it eliminates all possibility of silence. While it’s not always possible to achieve silence after the others have departed, solitude is a necessary precondition.

     If you want to talk to God, and to have some possibility that He will participate in the conversation, you should be alone. Perhaps that isn’t always the case. Perhaps you can attain that quality of silence if those around you will cooperate. The Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which is supposed to be a silent observation, might be a valuable exception. Yet I’ve seen the world’s din intrude on that practice on several occasions, usually through a cell phone.

     If you want to pray, for best results – a phrase I cringe to have written – get yourself away from others.


     Why this subject today? I’m not sure. It seemed important. I’ve often protested the storm of noise around me. It’s been much easier to attain silence these past nine years: i.e., since I retired from wage labor. I pity those who, immersed in the din, have little opportunity to experience true solitude and true silence.

     But there is this as well: the din can be addictive. One soaked in it for a sufficient time can come to feel that he “needs” it, though the reason isn’t always comprehensible. Perhaps it reinforces his awareness that he’s not dead yet. Perhaps he fears to be alone with his thoughts. Or perhaps – shudder — he fears to be alone with God.

     These are even more pitiable than those for whom silence is impossible owing to their necessities and surroundings.

     There’s no Last Graf but this: If you’re feeling beleaguered and beset, silence might be what you need. Try it; it’s a lot cheaper than Xanax. (Also, it doesn’t require a prescription.) Find yourself a place where you can shut out the din. Don’t bring anything with you that could intrude on the silence. When you have succeeded in nullifying the clamor of the world, try this: Become internally silent. Don’t contemplate any of your needs or plans. Don’t allow anyone else’s voice in your head. Sit, or kneel, and allow all of it to drain away, just for a little while.

     Perhaps God will speak to you. If He does, you’ll know; trust me on that. And as the Psalmist exhorts us, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” For He is Love, and “he who dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”

     May God bless and keep you all.


    • jwm on February 4, 2024 at 10:30 AM

    Years ago when I was a high school teacher I noticed that most of the students lived with earphones. Now, this was back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, so the earphones were connected to walkmans (remember?) and portable CD players. Regardless of the input, they lived in a field of constant distraction. They could not handle the quiet of their minds.

    Fast forward to this age and time, and the field of distraction is ubiquitous. When I get on the bike path I see everyone with the white plug in the ear, everyone with eyes glued to the  cell phone, everyone connected, wired, tuned in to their social. Mornings and evenings I see that everyone walking their dogs is connected. Every fast food joint, and almost every restaurant has a TV going constantly. Newer cars are connected, so drivers can get where they need to go without interrupting the stream. You can’t even buy gas without a little TV screaming at you while you’re captive to the pump.

    I just popped a memory from long, long ago. I had a Science Fiction literature class back in high school. We read Azimov’s Foundation Trilogy. The planet Trantor was one huge indoor mall. Kids grew up with a ceiling over their heads, and the first time they were taken outside, the sight of the sky above was utterly terrifying. I imagine many people would find the notion of silence equally frightening.

    It’s why I often refer to my home as the “Suburban Hermitage.” No TV here. No radio. No newspaper. No magazine. Just the desktop. And even with the desktop I rarely click on a video. Silence is golden.



  1. I’m blessed, in that I live on a dead-end dirt road. Every morning I take the dogs for a walk, and I say the rosary. I have to pause every now and then if a vehicle drives past, but if I time it right I don’t see another soul while I’m praying.

    Let me know if you change your mind on moving to North Idaho, Mr. Porretto. I know a guy who can give you a tour.

  2. Some of the quiet in my life is the result of preference. I dislike the constant noise that surrounds so many people in our modern world.

    It’s not uncommon for me to ‘unplug’ for days when by myself.
    My husband coming home leads to an almost unbearable sound surround. He is getting better – remembering to lower the tv sound, or even mute it, when talking to me. With my hearing loss, plus my tinnitus, I often struggle to make sense of what he is saying, even with hearing aids.

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