Many people I know have a difficult time practicing silence and stillness. They’ve bought into the myth of our Western culture that we are what we produce, that our worth is based on our busyness. Sadly, I see many in the Church who do not value silence, some who even laugh at it as if it is trivial, silly or nonessential to one’s spiritual growth. Yet I have seen some of these same people anxious, reactive and rootless, changing like a chameleon to please whatever audience offers them approval.
We tend to dismiss what we do not understand. It’s part of the reactive nature of our culture. One does not need to look far to see that this is true in this political season. But such dismissing happens within religious communities just as much as it does in politics.
Take a look at this pointed quote about silence from Joan Chittister:
Those who cringe from silence see it like the plague, fearful of its weight, cautious of its emptiness and the shock that comes with its revelations. The heaviness and emptiness we feared give way very quickly to turmoil and internal pressure for change. Silence enables us to hear the cacophony inside ourselves. Being alone with ourselves makes for a demanding presence We find very quickly that either we must change or we shall surely crumble under the weight of our own dissatisfaction with ourselves, under the awareness of what we could be but are not, under the impulse of what we want to be but have failed to become. Under the din is the raw material of the soul.
When we set out to practice silence, we soon discover that what is within us is disordered. We find that we begin to question things we had once accepted as absolute. When we get uncomfortable with the way that silence works like a spotlight into our soul, our reactive nature causes us to want to run away from the silence back into the comfortable environment of distraction and back into the moral codes we substitute for discipleship.
Without a regular practice of silence, one soon runs up against a wall that prohibits any further spiritual growth. Such a person is like a child who continues to play in a sandbox when just over the bluff is the beach and an entire ocean. We miss the immense joy of freedom because we choose to stay confined in a small, constrictive space.
The discipline of silence is essential to spiritual maturity and wisdom. The way forward is not easy and is best done with a wise spiritual guide, one who has been where you want to go. But the journey, though difficult, is the way to live a life of freedom, detachment and grace.