The virtue listed today is that of silence, and I have to admit that while I now have a love affair with stillness, quiet, and reflective contemplation in silence, it wasn’t always the case.
At one time, silence for me was a gateway into hell. It was a place where the things I was most afraid of facing would gently creep up into my consciousness. I think this is maybe a common occurrence in our society because we are constantly able to access noise: noise through radio, through our cell phones and computers, anyone can get reach us because we are in constant connection to our mobile devices.
Where silence might creep into a moment between two people in conversation, it has been replaced with facing a screen, with texting, with any excuse not to embrace the quiet and what that quiet might represent.
Jesus throughout the New Testament Gospels is know to retreat to the garden and pray: He is going to a place of quiet, a place conducive to silence, to reflection, to a place where engagement with the Divine is not only fostered by the environment, but easier to achieve given regular practice combined with (and this is the challenging part) an ability to embrace and release those ideas and thoughts that creep upon our minds like an ivy climbing a wall.
“But Jesus often withdrew to a lonely place and prayed.” -Luke 5, 16, Franciscan Virtues Through the Year, 146
Silence is a precious commodity; it as a resource that we need to foster and incorporate into our lives as part of a religious and spiritual practice. When I’m in my room and reading the Divine Office, I know that if someone else is in the house watching television or engaged in an activity that creates noise, it’s more challenging for me to focus on what I’m reading, focus on the deeper meanings of what it is I’m engaging. In the summer, when I read the Office outside in my back yard, the birds, the breezes, the smells and sounds of bees and other insects create noise, but they somehow become part of the silence that I am engaging with.
When I practice centering prayer, often times as part of that discipline in sitting in silence the ivy of my mind creeps in, thoughts blossom, and I become engaged with whatever the image that appears in my mind: maybe it’s a past encounter with someone that was unpleasant, or pleasant, maybe it’s an idea that I hadn’t approached in a certain way, or maybe it’s a desire to do something else or a thought related to asking myself why I’m engaging with this practice at all.
The beauty of the contemplative discipline that I and others have found is that when these ideas surface and are dealt with in the practice of silence, they are often times released unto God, often without really noticing that it has happened, and don’t seem to resurface to plague and torment throughout the day.
We need to find, embrace, and not be afraid of the silence when it approaches. I’m familiar with at least one individual who has been confronted with silence. It has literally been imposed upon them, and the idea of that is not only daunting, but frustrating. But rather than being viewed as a punishment, rather than going along with the line of most people around us, silence isn’t something that we should be afraid of. Rather, silence is a means and an opportunity to go deeper within our own psyches, to engage with the Divine in a more intimate, more personal way.
For us, religious or not, silence is as simple as going into our rooms, closing the doors, and being sill that we may know. What we choose to know is up to us. It can be a deeper knowledge of self, a deeper connection to the Universe, or simply a moment when our minds can be disengaged and we can become more tranquil.
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