What images does the word “silence” bring to mind? Perhaps you envision that quintessential Canadian scene of a remote lake at sunset, or recall a moment at the end of the day when you were the last person to leave your workplace and noticed its uncharacteristic stillness. You may picture someone responding with stunned silence to news that has changed his life forever. Silence holds many meanings.
How would you react to the suggestion that you could deliberately spend half an hour in silence? Are you excited by the thought? Skeptical that such a goal could be achieved in our world of traffic, TV and technology? Does the prospect of being silent make you uncomfortable? Whatever we may feel about silence, it is consistently listed among the classical spiritual disciplines. Considering silence as a discipline raises several questions:
What is meant by the discipline of silence? A simple definition is to move away from the common noises of our outer environment. These are the sounds that accompany daily life: conversation, people going about their work, children playing, and so on. There will always be aspects of our environment that we cannot control, but there are some steps we can take to create a sense of silence. Turning off the TV, closing the office door, or retreating to the quietest room in your home are all ways of doing this. We can also limit the amount of noise we personally generate by occasionally refraining from speaking, not because we are antisocial but because silence helps us connect deeply with God.
How does silence help us connect more deeply with God? If we want to know God better, shouldn’t we spend time studying the Scriptures, praying and following Jesus’ example? Of course! Study, prayer and sacrificial living are also spiritual disciplines, but sometimes silence enhances our experience of them.
Consider your most important human relationship. As that relationship developed, you shared information with each other; one of you spoke while the other quietly listened and then responded. This cycle of silent attentiveness and response allowed the relationship to grow. Similarly in our relationship with God, we share our thoughts with him and God invites us to hear what is on his heart. The discipline of silence facilitates that communication by helping us to be less distracted and more intentionally available, attentive and responsive to God, thus deepening our relationship with him.
What can you expect to experience when you practise silence? If you have ever lain awake in the quieter hours of the night, you have experienced some of the sensations that can arise in this discipline. Without the masking effect of noise, you may be confronted by the concerns and anxieties that bubble to the surface of your consciousness. The external noise has been replaced by noise generated within your mind and spirit. At such times it is good to be reminded that “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). Know that you can release your inner turbulence to God, allowing him to create a silent place in your inmost being so that you can hear the One who often chooses to speak quietly (see 1 Kings 19:11-13). In that silence, you will meet with God who calls you his beloved one. He will show you what he wants you to discover about himself, yourself and the world in which you live.
Major Gail Winsor ministers through the leadership development department at Canada and Bermuda’s territorial headquarters. She is also a trained spiritual director.
Six Steps to Meaningful Silence
1. Set aside a specific time and place. A few minutes in a quiet corner of your home is a good place to start.
2. Establish a manageable goal. If you are not accustomed to silence, sitting with God for 10 minutes may initially be enough. You may choose to set a timer, so that you are not preoccupied by the desire to watch the clock.
3. Sit comfortably, but not so comfortably that you will fall asleep!
4. Express your openness to God in a short, simple prayer such as “Come, Lord Jesus” or “My soul waits for the Lord,” then simply rest in God and wait on him.
5. If distractions arise, acknowledge them, release them to God in prayer and return to silence. Use a notebook to record reminders of tasks you need to attend to later.
6. Close your time of silence with a prayer of thanks for God’s presence.
Adapted from Ruth Hayley Barton’s Invitation to Solitude and Silence
(Photo: © Ingimage.com)