When Silence is More Than Being Quiet


 “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” Psalm 62:1(ESV)

By mere definition, to engage in a retreat is to take a specific time away from the regularity of life.  We step leave the stresses and busyness of regular life to more deeply attend to God’s presence and voice.  To do this, many retreats employ some element of silence.  We put down our schedules.  We close our emails.  We turn off the noise.

Silence in one part of retreats that I have often struggled with.  Every year, the clergy of the diocese are required to go on a retreat, a large portion of which is spent in silence.  I would often plan for these silent times, arriving at the retreat with a suitcase of ways to fill up the time; I would bring projects to complete, music to listen to, or movies to watch.  My phone was ever in my pocket, always providing the relief of e-mails, texts, and social media.  The observance of silence became very easy.  I could sit in my room, watching Die Hard, confident that all unwanted noise was being mediated through my headphones.  Who wouldn’t love a silent retreat like this?

Yet as I sat with this, I began to notice how I had grown accustomed to the sounds that encompassed my life; the blaring of the stereo, the flashes of the TV screen, the chirps and whistles of the apps on my phone.   It was as if I depended on those noises to take up the acoustic space within me.  My times of silence were not spent in undivided attention upon the Lord. Even though I was “on retreat”, my engagement with projects, social media, and various forms of entertainment simply re-created the very dynamics I was to be stepping away from.  In my desire to “fill the silence” -or worse yet, make the silent times “productive” – I was actuality removing myself from the very retreat I was to be on; I observed external quietness yet knew nothing of an internal discipline of silence.

That’s the difference between being quiet and being silent.  Being quiet simply refers to a reduction in external noise.  It is more of a description of an external atmosphere rather than an internal disposition.  The fact is, one is able enjoy quietness, mediated through headphones or the cessation from talking, and still be filled with the noises of modern life.  Even within a quiet atmosphere, the direction of our soul may remain fixed upon the frantic activity of life around us.  After all, it’s hard to give God our undivided attention when watching Bruce Willis jump off a building.

The discipline of silence, however, silence describes an inner quality of the soul.  We open ourselves to the presence of God, laying down the noise produced by our own striving and inward compulsions.  Silence involves closing ourselves to that which whirls around us, and (possibly more importantly) within us.  By quieting our environment, we labor to still our inner chatter.  In doing this we open ourselves to God’s presence and attempt, as best we can, to remain attentive to His voice.  Like Elijah before the still small voice, in silence we willingly allow the presence of God to confront us.

This is the power of silence.  Beyond all else, the discipline of silence is grounded upon the availability of God’s presence.  Silence creates the necessary space for us to interact with God’s presence, unhindered by the clutter of familiar distractions. It may be uncomfortable at first, yet as we push through the feelings of discomfort, we find ourselves entering that silence that is defined, not by the absence of noise, but by the mighty presence of God.

By Rev. Kyle Norman
Used by Permission

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