I’m often struck by the way that conversations are depicted in movies and television shows: the dialogue flows effortlessly, pushing the plot forward or revealing significant details at every turn, or at times simply letting the audience bask with delight in the wit of the screenwriters. In certain circumstances, conversation with our own friends may be of this sort, but it is usually less apposite, the timing less perfect, the jokes more repetitive. Most strikingly, there is often more silence.
One of the signs of a true friendship is that friends can be silent together without awkwardness. Communication is indeed an integral part of friendship, but in a true friendship the simple presence of the other is at times enough. Conversations in such circumstances do not require the rapidity and immediacy that an audience needs to stave off boredom, for here there is no audience but only players. There is time to formulate one’s response to a question, to savor the company of the friend.
Friendship with other men and women is one of the finest aspects of human life, and yet we are also called to something even more wonderful: friendship with God. The Lord, who allows us to be present to our friends through the gift of our very being, likewise brings us into his own presence, speaking to us in many and various ways. He speaks to us through the visible creation, in which his power and deity are proclaimed. He speaks to us through the prophets of the Old Testament, who were endowed with words to articulate God’s love for his people. Most profoundly, he speaks to us in his Son, pronouncing the Word of God who in the Incarnation becomes present to us as a true man, speaking our language and taking part in true human activity and experience.
In the Scriptures, we encounter Christ speaking to his friends, preaching to his followers, and debating with his interlocutors, but we also encounter him in silence: in the time that separates his birth, the finding in the Temple, and his Baptism; in the moments of prayer alone on the mountain; in the agony in the Garden, when he desires not the conversation but the vigilant presence of his three most intimate disciples; in the face of the unjust accusations made against him in the presence of Pilate. Today, also, Jesus invites us to spend time with him, sometimes in simple conversation, sometimes by praying with him the psalms which speak of him, but at other times simply by enjoying his presence in the silence of friendship.
Image: Sidney Paget, Holmes and Watson: “I Fell into a Brown Study.”