“Silence” By Adele Ahlberg Calhoun from Spiritual Disciplines Handbook
It is difficult to find silence in an age of technology and information. Silence challenges our cultural addiction to amusement, words, music, advertising, noise, alarms and voices. Silence asks for patience and waiting. And both silence and waiting make us uncomfortable. They seem so unproductive. We can’t tell if we are doing anything in them. So when we come upon silence, we fill it. We cram it with something else we can learn or do or achieve.
We break the silence of travel with an iPod, the silence of the evening hours with the TV or computer, the silence of sleep with an alarm clock. Every part of our life is inundated with words — urgent words, random words, trivial words, hurtful words, managing words, religious words and on and on. In the midst of so many words it becomes difficult to know which messages are really important and which ones we need to remember. To get through the flood of words we develop skills like skimming and scanning. We look for bullet points and bold print. We ask for summaries. We urge people to be brief and cut to the chase. And when we think they aren’t saying anything significant, we simply block out their words to attend to our own internal flood of words.
This habit of glancing at words and people extends to our relationship with God. We want pithy, memorable sermons. We want more religious words to chew on. The trouble is there are so many other things we are trying to remember that the sermon evaporates by the time we reach the parking lot. Could it be that what we need is time alone with God and a lot fewer words? Do we need to put on the ‘Do Not Disturb’ button and learn what it is to be available to God alone?
We need to realize that the world can go on without us for an hour or a day or even longer. We don’t need to respond to every word and request that comes our way. The discipline of silence invites us to leave behind the competing demands of our outer world for time alone with Jesus.
Silence offers a way of paying attention to the Spirit of God and what he brings to the surface of our souls.
In quietness we often notice things we would rather not notice or feel. Pockets of sadness or anger or loneliness or impatience begin to surface. Our own outer agenda looms larger than our desire to be with God in silence. And as the silence settles in and nothing seems to be happening, we often struggle with the feeling that we are wasting time. Everything we notice in this struggle can become an invitation to prayer. Like a can opener the silence opens up the contents of our heart, allowing us deeper access to God than we experience at other times. As we remain in the silence, the inner noise and chaos will begin to settle. Our capacity to open up wider and wider to God grows. The holy One has access to places we don’t even know exist in the midst of the hubbub.
Jesus told his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12). It is Holy Spirit’s job to keep the inner process of revelation underway. But in order for the Spirit to do his job, we need to cooperate and put ourselves in a place to deeply and reflectively listen. Be alone with God in the silence. Offer your body and your attention to God as a prayer.
As you quietly offer your body you can hone your listening reflexes. There is nothing you need to do here. This is not a time to come up with strategies for fixing your life. Silence is a time to rest in God. Lean into God, trusting that being with him in silence will loosen your rootedness in the world and plant you by streams of living water.
It can form your life even if it doesn’t solve your life.
The anonymous author of The Way of the Pilgrim wrote, ‘I need peace and silence to give free play to this quickening flame of prayer.’ Let the silence lead you to prayer.
How do you avoid or resist silence?
Do you like to fill silences with sound or learning — music, podcasts, news and so forth? What does this mean?
Where do you have silence with God in your life?
How much time each day do you give to silence (i.e., no words, printed or audible)?
Do you think God values time with you in silence?
SET A TIMER
If silence is new for you, begin with ten minutes. Setting a timer can help a novice who keeps watching the clock.
The timer lets you forget the time and settle into the quiet. Intentionally place yourself in the presence of God and become quiet.
As you become quiet what do you hear: voices, traffic, your breath, wind, your heart, distracting thoughts?
Let the noise go. Continue to let the quiet deepen. Be with God.
After ten minutes, reflect on what it was like for you to simply become still enough to hear the background.
Try this several times a day. What happens to you?
The benefits of being silent are often seen in the fruit it bears rather than in the experience of silence per se.
WHILE DOING A TASK
While doing a task, turn off any background noise and continue the task by offering it to God.
Be in the present, doing what you are doing with a listening heart. What is it like for you? What distracts you?
REFLECT ON A TEXT
Mediate on Psalm 37:4 — ‘Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.’
What does this verse say to you?
What desires has God put into your heart?
What does God say to you about your desires? Stay and wait.
Ask for the freedom to delight in God and for ability to know and live out your God-given desires.
LETTING GO OF DISTRACTIONS
Go into silence, placing yourself in the presence of God with the words ‘Here I am.’
Take some deep breaths, relaxing your body and quieting your mind.
As distractions come to mind, let them go by imagining they are boats floating down a river. Let the current take the distractions away.
Don’t follow the distractions. Gently return to God repeating ‘Here I am.’
Let the current of God’s Spirit carry you. What is this like for you?
A DAY IN SILENCE
Spend a day in silence: no books, maybe that includes the Bible, no music, just listen.
What surfaces? How do you want to interact with God about his gift of silence?
It takes time to quiet your thoughts; don’t become discouraged. Practice will help you learn how to best quiet yourself.