Those who are fond of retreats—writers, ecstatics, parents with young children—often comment on the silence such time away allows. Silence becomes something present, almost palpable. The task shifts from keeping the world at a safe decible distance to letting more of the world in. Thomas Aquinas said that beauty arrests motion. He meant, I think, that in the presence of something gorgeous or sublime, we stop our nervous natterings, our foot twitchings and restless tongues. Whatever that fretful hunger is, it seems momentarily filled in the presence of beauty. To Aquinas’s wisdom I’d add that silence arrests flight, that in its refuge, the need to flee the chaos of noise diminishes. We let the world creep closer, we drop to our knees, as if to let the heart, like a small animal, get its legs on the ground.
– Barbara Hurd, “On Silence” (Summer 2001)
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