Silence and Solitude
- Silence and Solitude
"Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life."
-Dallas Willard, "The Spirit of the Disciplines"
"We receive only when we are recollected; only in silence is heard the beating of the heart of God."
-Father Bernardo Olivera
"Best of any song is bird song in the quiet, but first you must have the quiet."
"It is a good discipline to wonder in each new situation if people wouldn't be better served by our silence than by our words."
-Henri J. M. Nouwen, "The Way of the Heart"
"Be Still and Know ' I AM GOD!' "
Psalm 46 : 10
There are many attitudes, actions, and assumptions, which are a part of our normal routines that are occluding God's work of changing our hearts.
Our first step to opening up our lives to God's grace is to expose these "occlusions." When we can identify the blockage, we can then take the appropriate steps to remove it.
We will examine some causes of spiritual suffocation: noise and loneliness. We will then explore the practices we can use to overcome them, thus opening our lives up to the life-change that God has made available .
Noise and Company:
Trying to Fill the Infinite with the Finite
Everyone is part Egyptian. We have all spent time living in denial. (sorry...)
We have an infinite void in our hearts that we attempt to fill with noise, people, busy-ness, possessions, and other finite things.
This is a major sickness in our culture.
We are addicted to noise. We need noise. We've got to have noise!
Silence is creepy, even frightening.
Silence steals away the distractions of life which anesthetize us from the feeling that our lives are still empty.
Noise helps us live on the banks of denial. Noise keeps us concentrated on something else-anything else!
Think about how much we hate to think. There is a t-shirt that reads, "When I work, I work hard. When I play, I play hard. When I think…I fall asleep." Contemplation is a four-letter word. Reflection is for mirrors and pools and highway signs. Why? It is because when we look at what our life really consists of,
We are terrified by its vast emptiness.
Do you know someone who cannot be in the house alone without the television or radio on? Do you know someone who has trouble "doing nothing?"
Do you know someone who cannot ride in the car without music playing?
Do you know someone who is terrified of being alone?
Is that person you?
All our attempts to fill our infinite emptiness with finite things are simply a long string of distractions that occupy our mind until we slip into blessed unconsciousness.
Think of all the things people do to "get their mind off it"-whatever "it" might be.
We are addicted to company. Notice also the many ways we work to fill the space around us. We fear being alone. We fear solitude. It is this fear that reveals a desperate insecurity within ourselves. However,
Our attempts to fill our lives with company will never satisfy the true hunger of the heart-community with God.
I do not suggest that we do not need relationships with other people. On the contrary, we need more true relationships with other people. However,
Time is necessary if one is to develop a true friendship with God. This must be time spent in solitude.
What would happen if we embraced being alone in quiet as an opportunity to become aware of God's presence? We just might find the One thing that can fill the infinite emptiness in our hearts.
Solitude and Silence: Filling the Infinite Void with the Infinite Fullness of God
Solitude is the practice of being absent from other people and other things so that you can be present with God.
In solitude, we rest from our attempts to re-create the world in our image. We rest from arranging our relationships and manipulating people with our words.
In solitude, we say to God, "I am here to be changed into whatever you like."
In solitude, we learn to "wait on the Lord."
Solitude teaches us that we do not need other people in the way that we usually think we need them. It teaches us that our value is not determined by our usefulness to others-who is using our services when we are absent?
Solitude teaches us to hear the voice of God, since we are cut off from the hundreds of other voices that call out to us from our usual company.
Solitude forces us to face despair, yet it provides the only opportunity to discover the amazing power of God's presence. Too often, we run from our loneliness. I am sensitive to the dark power of despair and loneliness-the pain defies explanation-however, I have discovered that it is often in the midst of such experiences that God's presence is most powerfully felt. It is only here that we truly comprehend the words of Jesus, "I am with you always, even to the end of the ages."
Silence is the practice of quieting every voice, including your own inner and outer voices. It is written of one of the Desert Fathers, Abbot Agatho, "that for three years he carried a stone in his mouth until he learned to be silent." A rather extreme measure, but it demonstrates how difficult it is for us to be silent.
Silence means being still so that we can hear the Voice that searches our hearts and minds. We must quiet our own hearts and mouths if are to be able to listen to the voice of God.
Silence also means excusing ourselves from the voices of others. The demands of the world around us do not easily go away. We hear countless requests and demands each day over the radio, on the television, and from the people around us. Each vying for our time and attention. Certainly some of these voices are important for us to hear-especially the voices of our family. However, there is One Voice that is above all necessary for us to hear. For this reason, we must develop habits of being unavailable to the voices all around us so we can learn to hear the Divine Voice.
Silence is also necessary to free ourselves from our tendency to control.
Silence frees us from the tyranny we hold over others with our words.
Thomas Merton wrote,
"It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard." When we are silent, it is much more difficult to manipulate and control the people and circumstances around us.
Words are the weapons we lay down when we practice silence. We give up our insistence of being heard and obeyed.
Silence forces us to surrender to the will of Another.
Solitude and silence, combined with an engaged mind. These are the practices to open our lives up to the grace of God. God says, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). They are the practices of waiting on the Lord. They are active stillness. They are readying one's heart to receive.
Solitude and silence, combined with a mind that is actively waiting on God will enable us to view life as God reveals it to us. We will consider our actions and the motives behind them. We will consider the actions of others and allow God to season our response with compassion and forgiveness-because we first recognize the compassion and forgiveness God has shown to us.
Solitude and silence, when matched with such attention, destroy the darkness of loneliness as we recognize that there is One who is eternally present with us. No longer will we coerce people into paying attention to us. These practices will strengthen our awareness that there is no such thing as solitary confinement-for though we may find ourselves abandoned by people, God has not, nor will He ever abandon us. We are freed from the suffocating chains of isolation as we recognize that we are not alone.
In silence and solitude, we discover that our infinitely empty lives can only find fulfillment in an infinite God.
So in silence and solitude, we seek Him-and find Him!
The most fantastic thing occurs when we develop what Brother Lawrence termed, "the practice of the presence of God." When our emptiness has been replaced by the fullness of His presence, we begin to view all other parts of life in a new way. God removes the "continual lust for more" (Eph 4:19) that results from a life apart from Him, and replaces it with contentment and ridiculous generosity.
Silence and solitude combined with attention to the presence of God; these are the starting point for all other practices. They place us where we may listen to hear God's perspective on our world, our circumstances, our goals, and our relationships.
Well, how do you do it? How does a person go about putting these practices into practice? There are many ways (more, in fact, than I will list below), for there are many ways we try to fill our lives with the finite. Allow me to suggest the following principles and practice.
1) Solitude and silence may require time and space.
a) Make or find a place where solitude and silence can occur.
--Find a quiet place in a library, a room in your home, a room in a church; somewhere where you will not be interrupted.
--Consider making a spare room in your house into a sanctuary. We make rooms for watching television, why not make one for communing with God?
--As an experiment, try to see how quiet you can actually make your home, car, etc.
b) Create a regular, non-negotiable place in your schedule that is solely for the purpose of being alone and still before God.
c) Carve out three or four days where you can be completely alone. There are many retreat centers designed specifically for such a purpose.
d) If you have large blocks of time where you are alone (at home, in the car), leave the television, radio, etc., off and focus your thoughts on scripture and in prayer. We who know how to worry also know how to meditate-it is just a matter of what our minds dwell on.
2) Solitude and silence do not always require time and space.
When you develop a habit of solitude and silence, you will be able to take them with you wherever you go-especially in the hectic places of your life.
a) Look for the short times each day where you can find solitude and silence. Use those times to focus your attention on seeking God's presence.
--The quiet morning moments before you get out of bed.
--The quiet after the children have gone to school.
--The short drive to work (leave the radio off).
--The traffic jam on the way to work.
--The moments you see a beautiful blue sky or green fields or imposing mountains. Let them direct your thoughts on the Creator.
3) Solitude and silence always require attention.
Silence and solitude without engaging the mind will put us to sleep.
a) Consider memorized Scripture. Chew it over in your thoughts and apply it in appropriate ways to your circumstances and relationships.
b) Consider an attribute of God. Think of the significance of the fact that He is present (also, able to do the impossible, gracious, good, just, etc.)
c) Consider the faithful actions of God in the past (Israel, the Church, and in your life). Read Scripture and see His works in history. Reflect on your past. Ask God to reveal the ways He has provided for you.
d) Listen. Wait in active stillness, "more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning"
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- This was a lovely post. I really enjoyed reading it and need this reminder from time to time...thank you.
Theresa George, OCDS
My blog: http://carmelitemom.blogspot.com
My community website: www.ocdsphila.org