LIVING AS APPRENTICES
I had a discussion with a group of people recently about the value of silence. The group had been asked to observe a day of silence as a soul-training exercise. None of them had found a way to accomplish that. When I asked why, the answers clustered around these reasons:
- I couldn’t fit in a day to get away.
- I think it is rude to not communicate with people in my own home.
- I like to talk! I like to share what I am thinking with others.
- I want to know what is going on with other people. I want to stay in touch with them.
- I don’t see how this exercise affects the topic we are reading about and discussing this week so I decided not to do it.
I spoke to some of their concerns that night. For example, it’s possible to maintain silence for a day during your regular life; you don’t have to create a retreat day. But I left fascinated with how terrified they were of silence. This fear seems to me to be centered around that nasty hidden motivation, “I want to be in control.”
After years of “training” for silence, living in silence is now often my preference. It’s easier for me than some of these people I quoted above basically because I am a natural introvert; some of them are naturally social. But in the beginning, committing to silence was a struggle. (I like to be in control, too.) My natural inclination was to turn on the radio or TV or an audio book. Though I understand their reluctance I am sad that the beauty of silence is not part of their lives.
Then yesterday, I read a fascinating comment on silence by Scott Peck, most famously known as the author of The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie and less famously for his strong Christian faith. He noted that he spent two hours a day in “prayer time” in “several different segments,” which I assume meant throughout the day. He then goes on to say:
I call it my prayer time to make it sound holy (which it is) so people won’t interrupt me. But during it I am seldom praying (as most people envision prayer): I am “merely” thinking, mostly about the every day decisions I need to make in my life. Calling this my prayer time is not a falsehood . . . You may be smarter than I but I cannot think clearly without reference to God. . . . “Hey, God, how does this look to you through your eyes?” is my constant question or litany (p. 110 -111 in Abounding Grace, an Anthology of Wisdom).
Reading further about Peck’s “prayer time” helped me realize that thinking with God is what my silence has become. Staying quiet is the first step in listening. Listening is extremely important in all relationships, but especially with God. If we don’t relinquish the airwaves to God, we miss abundantly more than we gain by trying instead to stay connected (usually superficially) with those around us. We always have the choice to open our world to God – or not.
I discovered another benefit of silence recently. Everything about my life has become more disciplined. I always have been organized but not always disciplined. I tended to start a project, remember another “to do,” and move to that one. We like to call that multi-tasking, especially when we are justifying our dependence on technology. I am learning that it is basically multi-distracting. Why has silence had this effect on my life? It may be its calming influence; frenetic activity and silence don’t go well together. It may be the fact that training for one spiritual disciple is training for all spiritual disciplines because they all bring us closer to God.
I’ve also noted that I tend to be more willing to do what I need to do before doing what I want to do. I am usually caught up with my life instead of running around trying to catch up. Perhaps because I am now “checking in” with God on God’s opinions and priorities and making different choices, I am able to lead a more ordered, less hectic life.
I’ve always loved a saying I read years ago which was found on the entrance to a Trappist Monastery: “Speak only when it improves the silence.” That may be a worthy goal for each of us, no matter how scary it is.