I once had a fascinating conversation on a plane with a woman who had been a delegate to the Louisiana State Constitutional Convention in 1974. That conversation must have been about 1983. I was about 15, and she was about 75. We were on a plane from Heathrow to Houston. She was kind, smart, and interested in me as a teenager. So I know that seat mates are people too.
But there's also the possibility you'll get stuck next to some goofball who wants to argue politics, convert you to her brand of the true faith, or have you invest in their new cellulite cream manufacturing plant.
So, I made a bet with myself. I bet that, on this trip to Ecuador and back, I could go the entire time and not speak to a single soul. Six flights, 18 hours, no chit-chat.
I am proud (embarrassed?) to say that I made it. Not a single word to anybody except the flight attendants.
Quite frankly, it was like a mobile Ignatian retreat. To be almost completely silent for 18 hours was gift. Our world is loud, for sure: cell phones, TV, radio, computers.
And I live and move and have my being in the business of spoken words: preaching, public praying, committee meetings, counseling. All talking.
So, this time of silence was well-placed for me. The Gospels say that from time to time, Jesus would head off from the crowds, either out into a boat or up a mountain. Certainly not to compare myself to Jesus, but he no doubt would have liked the lyrics to Chicago's ballad: "Everybody needs a little time away...."
Rest. Retreat. Contemplation. Quiet.
My silent trip was a good transition, too: from work to mission, from mission to home.
I remember reading somewhere the ideas of Ignatius of Loyola: The word of Jesus is sometimes silent, and silence is the space into which it is spoken. Without the space of silence, the truth of the word will not and cannot be heard.