The November holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States offers us a time to reflect on the grace of God in our lives. This series will focus on the fact that gratitude is the rock of our faith; if we lose gratitude, we lose our way.
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It’s 3:00 AM. I am wide-awake. The silence surrounds me like a thick fog. And I love it! I also love sitting my recliner in the living room reading or thinking. I enjoy working in the kitchen in silence. Most often I drive in silence. Being quiet, and in quiet, has been a delicious soul-training exercise.
I have not always been comfortable with silence. When I first opened a class with five minutes of silence, it was as hard for me as it was for the group members. I fidgeted and checked my watch and fidgeted some more. Several individual three-day silent retreats helped me along the path of silence. Now I am uncomfortable with constant background chatter or loud music. Sitting in a waiting room with a blaring TV is a very unpleasant experience.
So I am grateful for silence. Silence allows me to ponder. (Use the search box in the right margin of this page to find The Spiritual Discipline of Pondering posted on February 8, 2014.) Writing, for me, is preceded by mulling over a thought or word or quote in my mind. It can take days or weeks for that pondering to turn into a title, a paragraph, an opening line, an example – something that I can use when I sit down to write. I need the same quiet space when I am thinking about a way to teach a difficult concept.
Silence helps me find a space for grace. It gives me a moment (or many moments) to re-focus when I am angry or hurt or disappointed. It gives me room to choose how I am going to respond.
Long ago, I read this saying found on the door of a Trappist monastery: “Speak only when it improves the silence.” Much of what I think about saying doesn’t pass that test and thus isn’t said. This “speak only” concept keeps me away from the compulsions of social media sites. Reflexive checking of texts, Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or any number of other sites means the brain is occupied and probably overloaded. Silence means my head is clear; the pathway to thought and prayer is open.
Silence and its accompanying discipline of solitude are key to the other spiritual disciplines. I am grateful for their presence in my own life. I appreciate others who cultivate them in their lives. The result of practicing silence is a more peaceful, uncluttered state of mind – which is refreshing whenever we are fortunate enough to be in its presence.
Postscript: A few hours after I wrote this post, I happened to find a CD holder with all my favorite CD’s in it. I had been looking for it for months and had decided that it probably had been stolen from my car. And suddenly there it was! So today my house is not silent; the Gaither Vocal Band is serenading me! And I am grateful for that as well.