The Two Sides of Silence
Before embarking on some sort of journey, be it going to another destination, or planning a vacation etc., there can be the tendency to romanticize the process. Anticipation is often different than the actual experience.
When pondering the need for silence, it can be one-sided when it is simply being thought about or when reading from a particular author. The thought of silence can be soothing, peaceful and even healing. The desire for some peace in our lives at all levels can make silence seem like the medication that we need….which is true. However, like all the infatuations that draw us, the true test of the power and healing of silence comes when the romantic illusion drops away.
One woman who was here on retreat asked to speak with me. The first thing she told me was that the silence was deafening to her and she was surprised by that. She expected inner peace, instead, she found herself wanting to run away from the very thing that she came here to our retreat house seeking. The silence was both calling her and repelling her at the same time. I was impressed at her insight into her situation.
Yes, silence is peaceful, soothing, calming and healing. It allows us to let go and to be present to the moment. It roots us in the ‘now’ and when that is happening we are not fretting over the past or obsessing over our fears and anxieties about the future….we become simple awareness. Each person is unique how he or she will experience silence and I would think that one’s faith path will have some influence on how we deal with stillness. For there is also another silent presence there with us, beyond us, nameless, and if we are patient, we find loving. This can be a shock since suddenly the reality of what we call ‘God’ is a deeply felt reality.
However, that is only the beginning.
For there is often a long road to travel when a soul takes this journey into silence seriously. It is when we live intensely an interior life that we come to understand why Jesus commanded us to love ourselves.
We seek to hear the gentle voice of the Spirit when we pursue inner silence. We find that this is a true reality. Another fact we soon find out is that there are other voices that seek our attention as well. Many of them are not peaceful at all, but demanding, petulant, angry and can seem obsessive.
In reality, the silence just makes us aware of them, for they have always been there.
Much of the businesses of our lives is often an unconscious desire to escape these voices. Which is an illusion and often leads to obsessive behaviors and addictions that drive us. People often don’t know why they do certain things in their lives that are self-destructive and only bring chaos into their lives.
The fear of suffering is one of the greatest obstacles in living a deep interior life. For in our prayer life and meditations and silence we will find much that is disturbing and emotionally painful. Our addictions and obsession are a vain attempt to medicate these inner wounds, but they only give superficial relief and actually make things worse.
It is in sitting, or when we walk slowly and seek silence, that we find that these inner storms will not actually harm us, but in staying with the inner tempests we find — to use a Scriptural analogy — that Jesus was in the boat with us on the raging sea sleeping; but he is there all the same. We get through it, come out on the other side and in that we find that we have a sense of being home, or of the actual presence of the living waters in our heart.
This is a process that most of us have to go through over and over again. Yet even in our failures, our hearts remain open and slowly we find ourselves being lead and cajoled into deeper trust. We find that our path is really pathless but we still take the next step. This is the gift of silence, not a drug to sooth us, but a strong medicine to allow us to embrace the process that is our lives.
Waiting on the Lord can seem soul-numbing at times, but stay with it, be at peace and do not seek to escape the inner thirst and hunger that tortures the human heart until it is touched by God. It is then that we understand what our thirst and hunger are about. We seek to be seen, understood and loved. In silence we learn to simply allow that to happen, that is all grace.
All we need do is trust — which is in itself a choice that can transform us. For in choosing trust, we say no to the many other voices within that seek to keep us from experiencing that reality. Childish voices that seek to protect us, but in reality, they keep us from becoming truly childlike and trusting in the Lord of life and love.--Br.MD