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Food for Thought - Spiritual Formation


To the beloved of Jesus;

I urge you train yourself to value, pursue and welcome silence.

Thomas Kelly tells us, “If we learn the secret of carrying a living silence in the center of our being we can listen (to God) on the run. The listening silence can become intertwined with all our inward prayers. A few moments of relaxed silence, alone, everyday are desperately important.”

Silence is a needed ingredient of our lives if we hope to deepen our intimacy with God. God tells us through the Psalmist, “ Be still and know I am God (Psalm 46:10), through Isaiah, “…in repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength”(Isaiah 30:15) and through Moses, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still”(Exodus 14:14). It is important for us to learn to quiet ourselves, for then we will hear the still small voice of God and experience His presence, strength and involvement in our lives.

Yet silence can be a very difficult discipline to embrace.

Henri Nouwen writes, “There was a time when silence was normal and a lot of racket disturbed us. But today, noise is the normal fare, and silence, strange as it may seem, has become the real disturbance”. We have become accustomed to noise.

J. Vennard writes, “We long for silence and yet we are afraid of silence. For when the outer world is quiet, we begin to hear our inner noise. Our heads are filled with chatter; …in the silence we begin to realize that we are everywhere but here.”

The noise of our world has become a way of separating us from ourselves and from God. The continual noise does not let us hear what is going on deep within. As a result we live unexamined lives. We live lives where there is no depth. This situation is not solely a result of our culture were noise is our constant companion but can also be a direct result of negative or hurtful ways with which we have personally experienced silence.

Past memories and experiences with silence can cause difficulty in desiring to be silent. We might have been hurt, punished or frightened by silence. These experiences and others like them can lead to a negative attitude toward silence. Before you proceed take a moment to explore with God your attitude toward silence. Seek to discover any pre-existing internal barriers that may hinder you from being able to fully give yourself to the discipline of silence. Silence is an important element to your life with God. It is worth the time to begin to identify and deal with possible negative attitudes toward silence. Take a couple moments to work through the following questions:

When you think of being silent what feelings, thoughts, images arise within you?
What has been your experience of silence as a child, adolescent, adult?
How do you use silence with others?
Has anyone ever used his or her silence to punish you? What was that like for you?
When has silence deepened a relationship?
How does being silent in a group affect you?
Was there ever a time in your life when you experience silence as a gift…what was that like? What were the positive results that came from that time?
Do you long for more silence (be honest with yourself)?
If not, why are you resistant to silence?
What frightens you about being silent with yourself…being silent with God?
If so, where and when do you long for more silence in your life?
What is the difference for you between silence alone and silence in a group?
What can be the benefits of being silent with God?

If you have discovered some deeply entrenched negative feelings regarding silence it would be best to begin by taking those to God and working through them together. Also, bear in mind that even once you work through these issues you may still feel a hindrance as you purpose to enter silence. That is okay. You are on a journey and God is infinitely patience with you, as you need to be with yourself.

Now do not think that even if silence has not been a negative experience in your life it means you will be at home with silence or that silence will be easy to embrace. Silence is difficult for most people. It can make us feel helpless, fearful, and vulnerable. We rely on words to manage, control, manipulate and protect, and in silence that is all taken away from us. Also the whole of our culture mitigates against embracing silence as a friend. Wherever we go there is noise: the coffee shop, the store, the elevator…even in churches there is little if any silence. We have been trained to be comfortable with noise and ill at ease with silence.

Silence can be very unsettling because when the noise of the world ceases, you begin to hear your own inner voice. A common problem related to why you may seek to escape silence is the discovery that it evokes nameless misgivings, guilt feelings and/or strange, disquieting anxiety. Anything is better than this mess, and so you watch a movie, surf the net, call someone, play free cell, or go grab something to eat…but if you can pass through these initial fears and remain silent, you will begin to experience an inner calming of some of your internal noise and begin to sense the presence of God.

When we make room for silence we make rooms for ourselves…Silence invites the unknown, the untamed, the wild, the shy, the unfathomable – that which rarely has a chance to surface within us.” Gunilla Norris

If you continue to practice the discipline of silence, silence will become like a creative space in which you regain perspective on the whole of your life. Silence will eventually become an internal reality that you carry around within you. Your internal silence will be a place of peace, a place of being with God and yourself…a place where you experience the grace, mercy, faithfulness, compassion and power of God in a personally transforming way no matter what may surround you.

Silence helps to create an empty space in your busy life for God. Silence prepares you to hear the words of God. Thus silence is not the end but a vehicle for paying attention to God. It calls you to be present in the moment…to show up and place yourself in the way of God. God is always present but you are not always present to God…silence enables you to be present to God.

God is the friend of silence. And as you embrace silence something unexpected happens. This very personal and intimate spiritual discipline takes on a communal reality. This is seen in the words of Mother Teresa, “The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we care in our active life. We need silence to touch souls.” Thus silence is not merely about your own spiritual development but enables you to be Jesus to others as well.

But how does one begin to embrace internal silence? Absence of words is one of the tools with which we create silence. Stillness of body and discipline of mental activity are among the several other tools. But it is not easy.

Theophane the Recluse notes, “Thoughts continue to jostle in your mind like mosquitoes.”

Henri Nouwen writes, “It is so hard to be silent, silent with my mouth, but even more, silent with my heart. There is so much talking going on within me. It seems that I am always involved in inner debates with my friends, my enemies, my supporters, my opponents my colleagues, my rivals, and myself. But this inner debate reveals how far my heart is from You.”

Remember the words of Thomas Kelly, “A few moments of relaxed silence, alone, everyday are desperately important.”

Below are two scriptures to help you quiet yourself down internally and begin to be still in the presence of God. Find a posture that allows you to be relaxed and alert. It can help to have your neck and spine aligned but whatever is comfortable for you. Close your eyes and breathe deeply several times. Consciously release any muscle tension you become aware of. Breathe in peace. Breathe out tension. Relax your mind. As you begin to relax, begin internally speaking the words of one of the passages below…slowly using each word as it calls you to silence, to invite you into the presence of God. If particular thoughts keep returning, gather them up and give them to God to hold for you during this time. You can take them back later if you want.

Initiate a time of quiet by reading Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him”.

Allow this text to lead you gradually into a quiet, relaxed space before God by shortening the text at each reading and savoring each line before going on to the next.

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently…
Be still before the LORD and wait…
Be still before the LORD…
Be still…

Or similarly, Psalm 46:10:

“Be still, and know that I am God!”
“Be still, and know that I am…”
“Be still, and know…”
“Be still…”

Simply be in the presence of God. Relax, be still and be with God. Once stilled, it can be helpful to focus on one of God’s attributes during this time.

Silence can be a difficult discipline but it is well worth the time and effort to develop. Silence enables us to hear ourselves and God. Silence can help us to be Jesus to others. Being still before God leads to personal transformation and Christ likeness.

Start small and build upon your experiences of silence.

One final quote, True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment. William Penn

Together on the Journey;

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