It had been a hectic week, so many appointments, deadlines, and other randomness. I remember setting up my tent, outfitting it with my sleeping bag, camp light, and other essentials. Then I took a front-row seat at the lake.
That’s where it hit me. The silence of the place was causing my ears to ring. Suffering that pain seemed a fitting sacrifice before the healing balm of silence could do its restorative work.
OUR NOISY WORLD
We live in a non-stop, noisy world. Traffic rumbles, jets roar, meetings zoom, music booms, crowds clamor, we are saturated with noise day and night. We nearly shout at our friends to be heard in a restaurant. It seems there is no escape.
Some people are so accustomed to the constant din that they use fans and digital devices to provide white noise so they can sleep. We crave noise when we don’t have it. Like an addiction, we go into withdrawal when deprived of static sound. All the buzz sets us on edge.
A wall of sound can also be a convenient hiding place. We create our own personal music space where no one can enter. A busy room also distracts from intimate conversation. It’s easy to hide your authentic self amid this surround sound.
The voice of God seems almost impossible to hear. Can anyone experience God if there is no quiet place? Your inner spirit wants to draw close to Jesus, but a noisy atmosphere creates a wall of separation.
The human soul was not designed to absorb so much stimulation. How can we find peace? It must be possible to have a quiet mind. Right?
The spiritual discipline of silence will draw you closer to the peace of the Lord and closer to your authentic self. A habit of turning off the noise and closing the lips can build a reserve of quietness and calm in your soul. Once you get past your withdrawals, you’ll discover that the experience of silence is renewing.
A SACRED SPACE
Silence is a sacred space. It creates holy ground where we can meet God face-to-face. “The lover of silence draws close to God,” says John of the Ladder, a monk who lived near Mount Sinai in the 7th century.
Jesus sought places of silence where he could draw near to his Father. We read, “In the morning, long before dawn, Jesus got up and left the house, and went to a solitary place where he prayed.” He did this often enough that his disciples knew where to find him.
The apostle Peter imitated his rabbi, seeking quiet places for prayer. While staying in Joppa, at the home of a man named Simon, “Peter went up to the flat roof where he prayed… and he fell into a trance.” He knew the busyness in the house would distract his prayers and the roof offered a peaceful sanctuary.
Anthony of Egypt responded to the call of Jesus as he listened to the gospel reading one Sunday, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and come, follow Me.” So, he sold his possessions and followed Jesus into the desert west of Alexandria. This 4th century hermit remained in the desert where he lived in a simple hut.
He attracted many followers even as he spent the rest of his life in the desert. The desert is said to have the deepest silence. Anthony spent most of his time alone in quiet. He learned the spiritual value of silence and the secrets of a quiet mind.
Anthony showed us that silence develops a person of great spiritual insight and wisdom. “Through silence you come to understand; having understood, you give expression,” he said. Silence gives you time to ponder the deep things of God. Afterwards, expressions of deep insight will flow freely from your acquired wisdom.
Basil the Great, a noteworthy 4th century spiritual father, believed that silence, practiced in a tranquil atmosphere, was good for spiritual learning. In his early letters, Basil focused on the value of silence for leading the mind into the contemplation of God.
In time, Basil realized the lessons of silence about when to speak. We learn to be present, listen in stillness, then reply with a peaceful and thoughtful mind.
The spiritual discipline of silence teaches us how to be still. We learn how to be quiet in body, mind, and spirit. A peaceful place, quiet mind, and closed lips are all you need. Whoever masters the practice of silence has escaped the tyranny of constant noise.
In silence, you encounter not only the depths of God, but you can also explore the depths of your authentic self. The veil of noise is lifted so that you can listen to your heart.
God, who looks beyond your public image, will gaze into your heart and show you what he sees. Silence opens this window both to the mysteries of heaven and the secrets of your soul.
Be still and know God. Silence can bring you face-to-face with God. Then God can bring you face-to-face with your hidden self. You will find an internal sense of calm and quietness by practicing the spiritual discipline of silence. It will help you be present with others and in everyday situations of struggle.
It isn’t necessary to join a monastery or move to the desert to practice silence. You only need a quiet place and closed lips. As Abba Isaac, a great 5th century spiritual father of Egypt says, “We pray with doors closed when with closed lips and complete silence we pray to him who searches not words but hearts.”
It’s quite possible to create personal times of silence, even in this age of noise. You may need to wait until children are asleep, but beyond that, personal silence can begin by turning off all electronic media. Silence your computers and smart phones and televisions and radios and music apps and, well, you get the idea.
Find a time to have quiet. Sit and be still in God’s presence. Try ten or twenty minutes. When you become accustomed to brief periods of silence, you can set longer times and do other activities in silence.
In quiet stillness, free from distractions, there is space for prayer and reflection. “When we are at rest, and as it were, plunged into the stupor of sleep, there is revealed understanding of the most secret meanings,” wrote John Cassian in the 5th century.
A silent retreat is a good way to experience longer periods of silence. Your retreat may last part of a day or several days. If you are the outdoors type, go to a nearby park. Go hiking or camping in silence. If you are the indoors type, visit a museum or library, a church sanctuary, anyplace that maintains a quiet atmosphere.
Explore a monastery or retreat house that supports silent retreats where you can have a private room and meals. Catholic retreat centers are best if you want silence more than busy recreation. Consider taking a retreat for two or three nights every year.
Jesus beckons, “Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.” Find quiet places around your home and nearby community where you can be alone with God and with yourself.
Silence can be hard at first. Start off light and advance to 30-minutes in a familiar space. Create a peaceful place in your mind where you can go anytime and anywhere. Graduate to silent retreats. Pursue silence as an intimate journey into God and into your inner space.