Week Three: Silence.

This week, I chose to practice the spiritual discipline of silence, though I did not do very well at it.  Let’s just say that I realized how *radically* tied I am to any kind of noise – from my Spotify playlists to the whirring sound of the fan in my room.  Goodness, I’m even writing this blog to background music!

A photo I took of a lone dandelion this past autumn.
Here’s how Adele Calhoun describes silence as a spiritual discipline:
Desire: to free myself from the addiction to and distraction of noise so I can be totally present to the Lord; to open myself to God in the place beyond words
Definition: Silence is a regenerative practice of attending and listening to God in quiet, without interruption and noise.  Silence provides freedom from speaking as well as listening to words or music. (Reading is also listening to words.)
Practice Includes: 
  • Setting a period of time in which you don’t speak but isolate yourself from sounds (other than perhaps the sounds of nature)
  • Driving or commuting without the radio or CD player turned on
  • Leaving the TV off; spending time in silence with God alone
  • Exercising without attending to noise; listening to God
  • Having personal retreats of silence”
(Calhoun, pg. 121)

This week, even if I wasn’t consciously choosing to listen to noise, it seemed to follow me everywhere I went. It’s absolutely rare (and a little bit creepy) for a coffee shop to not have music.  And workouts seem to lose a lot of their luster when no music is playing in a gym.  And to be fair, I did my fair share of pursuing noise throughout the week.  While I was alert to pursuing the spiritual discipline of silence, I became acutely aware of how little silence I have in my daily routine.  In fact, I have a separate music playlist for many of my daily activities:  getting ready in the morning, doing my devotions (my ‘quiet time’ with the Lord), working on homework, exercising at the gym, driving in my car, and even falling asleep at bedtime.  Each playlist is well-curated to best fit each activity, and if I can’t access my music, I’ll often substitute with other background noise.

Each time I tried to sit in silence, I couldn’t do it for very long.  For example, on Wednesday I was sitting in the prayer chapel doing some journaling.  After a while of listening to music, I decided to turn it off.  After a few seconds of silence, I’m pretty sure I said aloud, “NOPE,” then turned the music back on. 

*  *  *  *  *
Why am I in love with noise?  
Even though I’d like to say that I don’t know the answer to this question, I know at the core of my being that I’m afraid of silence.  Solitude I can do just fine.  Stick me in a room alone with a good book, a relaxing album of classical music, a sweet-smelling candle, a comfortable reading chair, and a tasty cup of tea, and I’ll be content for hours.  Take away the book and the music and watch me panic.
Why am I afraid of silence?

At this point in my life, it’s scary to be face-to-face with a void of noise.  All the things I’ve used to distract my mind are gone, and then it’s an onslaught of fears and worries and concerns and anxieties.  When it’s silent, I no longer sense the benefits of solitude.  Instead, I start to feel lonely.
What would it take to invite God into the silence?

I want to know, too. Therefore, instead of moving on to another spiritual discipline next week, I’ve chosen to focus on silence again next week – consciously inviting God into the silence I most fear.
*  *  *  *  *
I like (in theory, not yet in practice) what Henri Nouwen has to say about loneliness as it’s on its way to solitude:

“This difficult road [from silence] is the road of conversion, the conversion from loneliness into solitude.  Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude.  To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.  This requires not only courage but also a strong faith” (from Seeds of Hope, pg. 61-62).

{Oh, how I want to lean into loneliness so that it becomes fruitful solitude, 
a solitude that nestles me closer to Jesus}
*  *  *  *  *
So, in summary, this week was much more about awareness of my lack of silence than it was about making headway in practicing silence.  As I’ve realized how very little I allow silence in my life, I have a deepening desire to cultivate spaces of time – no matter how short they may be – to be silent. 
Stay tuned for next week, probably an even more difficult week, as I ask the Lord to help me turn my awareness of silence into the actual practice of silence.
I pray that in this week ahead, you also might glimpse the stillness that the Lord is drawing you into. That even though it may be difficult to see the attractiveness of silence, that it can be a channel for you to undistractedly know how loved you are by God.

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