"In silence and quietness the devout soul makes progress and learns the hidden mysteries of the Scriptures." - Thomas a Kempis
"Hectic" best describes most of our lives. "Noisy" and "Busy" come to mind as well. The wisdom of Proverbs admonishes us, "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (18:21) The Scriptures attest to this in several places. The ancient fathers bear witness to its truth, as well. And yet, we live lives that are contrary to the consensus of these witnesses. They agree that much talking is a vice and that silence is a virtue. I know I forget that often. The greatest witness to this is Jesus, Himself. Although He taught publically, He also valued times of silence and solitude, seeking to emerse Himself in prayer and reflection. He also prepared for times of distress with times of solitude. But that word frightens many of us today. Solitude, silence, the idea of being alone and left to ourselves rattles us. For the Christ-follower, we're never turly alone, and silence is only a greater opportunity for us to listen. To quote the book I'm reading, "All in all, no spiritual discipline is more universally acclaimed as necessary than the practice of silence." Rufinus, Jerome, Benedict, and even modern day pilgrims like Willard and Foster commend silence as a necessity. But why solitude? It really isn't about withdrawing to avoid evil or people. It is about posturing ourselves to better listen to The Father. Richard Foster, one of my favorite all time writers, connects solitude with silence, saying, "Without silence there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God, is not silence." The need to listen requires silence, and the need for silence requires solitude. It's no wonder that with all the noise of life (iPods, CD players, TV, cell phones, etc.) that we have a hard time hearing God's voice. All of the ancient writings point toward silence and solitude being foundational in developing our love of God, self, and others.
In addition to needing to hear from God, silence and solitude provide us the opportunity to find what we can learn from ourselves without the external stimuli that are around us. St. John of the Cross (1542 - 1591) says that this type of silence often leads to The Dark Night Of The Soul. We can't truly pursue silence without ending up in a season of deep dark doubt where we hear nothing but our own depravity. Our desire to be plugged into God, fully listening and fully aware brings us to a place of dealing with that which hinders us most: ourselves. But when we enter into that lonliness, that deep dark doubt of our own inner struggle, we emerge with more patience and fortitude. We hear and are made stronger for it. Our faith is bolstered. We become aware of our true selves when we're "swallowed up" in God; realizing the freedom of being rather than doing. And when we discover this new self, fulfilled only in our immersion into Christ, we begin to bear fruit. It is in The Dark Night Of The Soul that the soil is replentished. Then the seed takes root and fruit is produced. John Climacus writes, "Intelligent silence is the mother of prayer, freedom from bondage, custodian of zeal, a guard on our thoughts, a watch on our enemies...a companion of stillness, the opponent of dogmatism, a growth of knowledge, a hand to shape contemplation, hidden progress, the secret journey upward." Richard Foster's quote on the product of silence and solitude bears great weight in whether it is worth the pursuit, He writes, "the fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others. There comes a new freedom to be with people. There is a new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts." Summary? Being quiet and being alone on a regular basis makes us better people and better disciples. It makes us more useful, more set apart and more aware of the work of Christ in and around us.
Will you join me in the practice of regular silence and solitude? I am building into my life this discipline by working out 2 hours a week (not necessarily consecutive) of silence. I will be building to a 1/2 day a month and a two-day retreat a year. I've already contacted a monastery in Pecos, NM, about the use of their facility. Like any other worth-while things in our lives, we must make them a priority and get them on our calendar. Will you put silence and solityde on your calendar?
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