The "spirit of silence" that our Father Benedict instructs the disciple to cultivate is a silence of a particular character. It is not merely the absence of sound, but a presence, a quality of experience. The spirit of silence is nurtured to further the spiritual formation of individuals and of the community at large.
The spirit of silence is kind and generous, not stingy, hostile, or resentful. It is safe. Safe silence, held in common, is a rare and great gift. Safe silence need not be comfortable, however. Silence unlocks our veiled habits of thought and emotion, and sometimes it takes considerable work to feel safe without filling the space.
Rarely do words ring truer in my life than St. Benedict's quote from Proverbs 10:19: "In much speaking you will not escape sin." I find that I am called to hold silence far more often than I am called to speak. To "hold silence" is to listen for direction from somewhere other than my own thoughts and words. It is to be fully present and engaged with life while resisting the temptation to reach for the steering wheel. Such resistance feels dangerous and unpleasant, yet, with practice, we find that basking in the spirit of silence is nothing less than the active Presence of God, which is the safest place to be.