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The Practice of Silence

In my most recent sermon, I talked with you about spiritual practices -- those activities that have developed over centuries as ways to grow closer to God. All kinds of experiences can be identified as spiritual practices. For one friend of mine, it's sitting on a stump in his backyard. For another, it's journaling her morning prayers. Yours may be walking, or listening to music.

The most commonly known practices are: prayer, fasting, meditation, study, self-examination, fellowship (including worship), rest, solitude, and hospitality.

For some time now, the one I've been most drawn to is the practice of silence.

We're probably all familiar with Psalm 46:10, in which God says, "Be still, and know that I am God." But if we're being honest, being truly still can be challenging -- partly depending upon how we define it. Most of the young adults in my family would consider sitting with their cell phones, thumbs flying, being "still." After all, they're not talking! But being still is not the same as being quiet. Stillness involves the mind as much as the body, and it seems that it's becoming harder and harder to still our minds on a regular basis.

As you probably know, Harry and I have been blessed with our first grandchild -- two-and-a-half-year old Piper -- beautiful, smart, and clearly the loudest child on the planet. When she's not chasing the dog through the house with her popper/lawn mower, she's suddenly letting out a blood-curdling scream because a piece of lint on the floor looks suspiciously like a very scary bug. We love having her with us. We love the quiet that descends the moment she leaves. Most times, we just stand in the living room as the door closes, looking at each other in stunned silence!

Chances are you've experienced something like that... being in a situation in which a loud noise suddenly stops, and you realize just how loud it was. But, to be honest, the "noise" we live with on a daily basis is much more subtle, and doesn't involve only our ears.

When I taught business communication, I defined noise as anything that comes between the sender of a message, and the receiver. It may, indeed, be audible. But it can also be visual, mental, physical... we are over-stimulated, distracted, tired. The only way we can have deep communication -- including communication with God -- is to remove ourselves from all of that noise.

What is there about being still that draws us closer to God? Most of us don't hear an actual voice. So why can we "hear" God more clearly when we're silent? Isn't God louder than any earthly noise?

Father Richard Rohr writes:

Probably more than ever, because of iPads, cell phones, billboards, TVs, and iPods, we are a toxically over-stimulated people. Only time will tell the deep effects of this on emotional maturity, relationship, communication, conversation, and religion itself. Silence now seems like a luxury, but it is not so much a luxury as it is a choice and decision at the heart of every spiritual discipline and growth. Without it, most liturgies, Bible studies, devotions, "holy" practices, sermons, and religious conversations might be good and fine, but they will never be truly great or life-changing -- for ourselves or for others. They can only represent the surface; God is always found at the depths, even the depths of our sin and brokenness. And in the depths, it is silent. (Emphasis mine)

I think Rohr is saying that God will not compete for our attention -- because without focus, without silence, we cannot truly identify and comprehend God's word for us. We cannot deeply experience God's presence. Rather, God waits for us to surrender to the deepest parts of ourselves, deeper than words, where we can experience the soul-nourishing presence of the Spirit of God within us.

Many theologians, saints, and desert mothers and fathers have written about this essential role silence plays in spiritual development. Mother Teresa wrote:

We need to find God, and [God] cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature -- trees, flowers, grass -- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.

And, I would add, we need silence to allow God to touch our souls.

But here's the thing. The practice of silence doesn't require that you go on silent retreat, though retreats can make silence more readily available. It doesn't require long stretches of time when you don't communicate with other people, though refraining from talk can make inner silence easier to attain.

If you can find even 10 or 15 minutes in your day to close yourself off from the world, God will draw near. If you can find a bit of time in your evening to turn off the TV, close your book, or silence your phone, God will be there.

God is, in fact, always there, waiting. Sometimes, you will "hear" what God wants you to know. And sometimes, God simply wants to enfold you quietly in the arms of the Son, Jesus.

My prayer for you during this Lenten season is that you will find time -- and make time -- to sit in silence with your Lord and Savior. When you do, you will find your spirit refreshed, your faith renewed, and your heart at ease.

Blessings, as we look towards the glory of the resurrection,

Lou Ann Karabel

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