Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Kathleen Norris on Noise and Silence

Over the years when I worked as an artist in elementary schools, I devised an exercise for the children regarding noise and silence. "I’ll make a deal with you", I said, "first you get to make noise, and then you’ll make silence…"

What interests me most about my experiment is the way in which making silence liberated the imagination of many children. Very few wrote with an originality about making noise. Most of their images were clichés, such as “we sound like a herd of elephants.” But silence was another matter; here, their images often had a depth and maturity that was unlike anything else they wrote. One boy came up with an image of strength as being “as slow and silent as a tree,” another wrote that “silence is me sleeping waiting to wake up.” “Silence is a tree spreading its branches in the sun.” In a parochial school one third grader’s poem turned into a prayer: “Silence is spiders spinning their webs, it’s like a silkworm making its silk. Lord help me to know when to be silent.” And in a tiny town of western North Dakota a little girl offered a gem of spiritual wisdom that I find myself returning to when my life becomes too noisy and distractions overwhelm me: “Silence reminds me to take my soul wherever I go.”

Kathleen Norris is a poet and best-selling author as well as a Benedictine Oblate at Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota. To learn more about her, click here. 

Now, you try the same: first make noise and then make silence. What do you have to say about the experience of silence?


Please share your reflections with us here.

To view or make comments you must be logged in to Monasteries of the Heart. If you are not yet a member, you can create a free membership account at now. A real person authenticates each new member account to avoid spam accounts so you will not have immediate access. As soon as your account is verified you will receive an email with further instructions.