Fruits of Silence & Solitude

Scientists seek finite answers to life’s riddles, but saints embrace the Infinite



Many saints, performers of wondrous deeds, fortified themselves with silent, prayerful contemplation of infinite Truth — all in their small, simple cells.

Researchers and scientists like the famous inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla also embraced privation, risk, and sacrifice. Much like the saints, they demonstrated the great faith that life’s unknown secrets would be revealed to them if they persevered in their silent, solitary research. They were concerned with finite answers, whereas the saints focused on the infinite. But in their pursuit of finite knowledge, inventive and life-changing miracles would often result.

Most researchers are anxious to have their new findings quickly reported, to be the first to win world recognition and acclaim—the Noble Prize in particular. One unusual exception was Sir Isaac Newton, a proponent of isolated study, who shut himself away in his rooms, published reluctantly, and restricted his audience to only those he thought capable of appreciating his work. Only after much persuasion by close friends did he eventually agree to his Principia being published in full.

More typically, Marie Curie, who in a secluded shed behind her lab risked her life in discovering polonium and radium, rushed publication of her new findings. She was the first woman to win not one Nobel Prize, but two. Her children won three more.

Thomas Edison tried 6,000 secret experiments inventing the incandescent tungsten bulb. He persevered and created a reliable light source that lit up the world. He said, “My best thinking has been done in solitude.” Similarly, saints, after years of persevering in solitary prayer, enlighten their own generations.

Tesla competed with Edison and invented alternating current — more efficient than direct current for power delivery. He said, “The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. No big laboratory is needed in which to think.” Monks and nuns have long practiced secluded contemplative prayer to great effect.

Peter Higgs recently claimed that he would not have been able to complete his Nobel-prize-winning work in subatomic particles without the quiet solitude he enjoyed in the 1960s. He was referring to today’s disruptive cell phones and social media addictions that hamper critical thinking and spawn group-think.

Albert Einstein’s greatest discoveries underlay all those amazing communication technologies. For example, understanding of the photoelectric effect, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, preceded the creation of digital cameras. Military GPS systems take into account the distortion of time due to gravity. But Einstein was a loner at heart despite his world celebrity status, and he avoided his land-line phone. He spent as much of his day as possible in solitary silent reflection, save for short breaks to discuss crucial ideas with assistants or to play his beloved violin for family and friends.

Such devoted scientists expedited development of wondrous inventions. During the last three centuries, they have upstaged miracles with magical technologies such as raising the clinically dead in ER rooms, healing grave illnesses with radiological and biochemical treatments, and rehabilitating quadriplegics.

When these intellectual explorers, often forgetful of eating or hygiene, shut their doors, their curiosity motivates them to decipher features of God’s creation (without naming them such, as many are nonbelievers).

And that’s where the similarity between devoted scientists and saints ends. A scientist seeks finite answers to life’s riddles, but a saint embraces the Infinite and manifests another Christ, often in miracles that technology has yet to equal.

Jesus portrayed profound faith as a vastly untapped resource that is claimed by investing all the talents one can muster.

Have faith that what you ask shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you (Matt. 7:7)

Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him (Mark 11:23)


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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