I’ve never been a person committed to silence. Most of those who know me would most likely wish and hope that I WOULD BE committed to silence, but alas, my life is filled with words. The truth is even when I’m not talking, I’m thinking about talking. Pitiful isn’t it? Nonetheless, I’m trying to learn more about silence and cherishing the present moment. The lessons I’m learning have to do with being quiet in the moment…in other words, in order to savor and look for the presence of the Spirit (Kingdom of God) in the present moment, I need to be quiet, even if it is for a minute or two. A deep breath, a series of seconds of silence and a prayer of awareness can keep me “tapped in” to what God is doing and saying to me. I want to join God in what He is doing in the world…I’m sure that along with my desire are the words that God needs to share with me, “if that’s true, shut up and listen.”
Silence in the traditions of the Christian journey has been equated over history to death. Centuries ago, people who followed Jesus equated the idea of solitude and silence with look death “straight in the eye.” In fact, Alan Jones in his book, Soul-Making, writes:
“Facing death gives our loving force, clarity and focus.”
There is an interesting but provocative story in Jones’ book that I found helpful in putting silence in its proper framework for my life…maybe it will mean something to you.
A desert father (from the 3rd century A.D.) was asked for a word of wisdom by one of his disciples.“Go to the cemetery and curse the dead,” said the old man. The disciple went off and stood among the graves and shouted: “You cowardly, sinful brood! The stretch of your sins is an offence to heaven. I curse you with all power at my command. May you never see the light!” The young man went back to his master and told him that he had completed the task. “Did the dead say anything to you?” the old man asked. “Not a word!” answered the disciple. “Now go to the cemetery and praise the dead.” The young man ran off, stood among the graves, and began a great eulogy: “You are greater than the apostles. Your good deeds rise up to heaven like the incense. You inspire those you have left behind to good deeds. Such is your power, you glorious saints!” The young man hurried back to his master’s cell. “Well,” said the old man, “how was it this time? Did the dead have anything to say?” The disciple answered, “They were as silent as before.” After a period of silence, the old man said, “That is how you have to be – like the dead; beyond cursing and praise, unaffected by the opinions of others.”
We all face SO much when we are silent. You may not even be aware of it…I know I wasn’t! I just “feel” uncomfortable and am usually anxious to get some “sound” going to fill those moments of perceived emptiness. Little did I really know or appreciate how much is going on when we are silent. When we are silent, we are alone with our thoughts, temptations, urges, worries, anxieties and fears. That’s why our moments of silence are important in our relationship with Jesus. For prayer is, in many respects, a moment-to-moment willingness to place ourselves on the threshold the death and wait there. In those moments, our hearts, our thoughts, and again, our fears, apprehensions, anxieties, worries, attitudes, and desires all are laid bare to the Lord. Silence gives us an opportunity to face our dependence upon all things material…it renders our personal strategies of self-deception less effective. In these moments, sometimes what the bible alludes to as “cave” or “wilderness” or “times away” moments, these are the places there is nothing less than the dwelling place of God. Jones says,
“Stopping the world, therefore, is an inescapable first step. It is the means by which we break out, or are broken out of, a way of thinking and believing that confuses our descriptions of things, people, and events for the realities themselves. This breaking out not only widens our visions, it changes it…stopping the world is an exhilarating experience. Just for a moment, we have no choice but to see all our dogmatic and philosophical baggage thrown overboard as we stand ship-wrecked on an unknown island.”
This “unknown island” is a dependency upon God and an awareness of His transforming and loving presence that oft goes ignored purely because we can’t sit still and be quiet, silent before the Lord. I read that phrase and it REALLY made sense to me! I love exploring…I’m naturally curious but this “unknown island” though exciting to think about will ONLY BE EXPLORED in my life when I take the time to “be still and know that I am God.”
So, how is it for you? How important are moments of silence? Do they show you more of yourself than you are comfortable with? If that’s so, I think you might want to join me in exploring that “unknown island” so that it can be known and show us, again, that we have a HOME in the Lord.