chris-wilson04

“Silence“

Growing up silence seemed like punishment.  How many times I was encouraged to “be quiet” I cannot recall.  Silence was equated with discipline.  Additionally, I became a high-end extrovert.  Things like people, events, groups, and lots to do on the schedule excited me.  What I did not know was happening as I pushed aside my dislike of silence I was pushing aside my spiritual voice but more importantly a deeper connection to God.  Growing up, I was tempted to engage in silence in a more spiritual way.  I did so reluctantly but followed through because of my connection to groups I attended on a regular basis.  I recall signing up for a thirty-minute prayer vigil as a youth.  It seemed like forever to complete.  I recall a later hour-long prayer vigil as a young adult.  This time it was eternity.  Several years ago, I hesitantly signed up for a retreat that included a 24-hour period of silence.  I must admit I doubted my endurance.  Surprisingly this time, I was annoyed at the inner dialogue and clutter emerging from the early time of the silent period.  I tried my best to let those thoughts go to make room for God’s presence to arise.  I began thinking of comforting scriptures and hymns seeking to fill the space with focused thought and a prayerful mood.  I began thinking of ways to use my silence in helpful to me.  It was mildly helpful, but I worked too hard to control the experience of silence.  Realizing I was shaping this silent time for me with my likes and dislikes that God had no room to enter.

I retreated from my busy attempt to endure the silence and released myself to God.  What could I hear from God in this time?  How might I wait to see how God will use me as a vessel of faithfulness in these moments with God?  I refocused to “be” with God rather than “do” for God.  If an awareness came to me I wrote it down.  If a fleeting thought arose in my mind I wrote it down.  If a scripture passage bubbled to the surface I wrote it down.  If a deep longing entered my heart I wrote it down.  My energy and spirit rose as my written words captured thoughts, hopes, and understandings.  Confirmations or new insights for my relationship with God grew with more clarity.

Meal times during the experience forced me back in a communal setting in the dining hall of the retreat center.  Forty plus people and not a word spoken.  I wondered how many others, extroverts, were longing just to say a word to their neighbor.  Maybe we already were just not the way we traditionally speak.  We were a covenantal community in spirit, in silence, in God.  As I moved my utensil to my mouth with food the word that kept echoing in my mind was “gratitude.”  Gratitude for the retreat.  Gratitude for my family.  Gratitude for those hands that anything to do with the meal I was eating.  Gratitude for God’s guiding strength in my life.  Gratitude for the silence to broaden my awareness.  Yes, gratitude even for the silence.

When I completed the 24-hour period of silence I thought I would hunger for the time to end, rather I was desiring for the time to continue.  I had needed this time to reset my soul, reconnect with God in deeper ways, and remember richer truths that flow from my faith.

Silence has become a regular spiritual practice for me.  I need it to bring balance to my overly active spiritual life.  I remember the line from the hymn “Come and Find the Quiet Center” that says, “Silence is a friend that claims us.”  Silence claimed me rather than me claiming silence.  Silence is about God and how I fit into God’s wider vision for creation.  Silence is about reminding me that too often we speak of God but really don’t allow God to truly work through us.

I no longer feel the need to fill the void when silence is experienced.  Silence continues to teach me the values of waiting on God, leaning into God’s mystery, and creating needed space for a wider view of my life and ministry.  Silence has become a true partner for me in ministry.  This is surely a long way from my dismissive thoughts on silence growing up.  Silence has help me wait on God, and yet I am sure the silence has allowed God to wait on me as well.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Dr. Christopher Wilson