I am, by nature, a quiet person. I score well into the “I” range on Myers-Briggs; it drains my energy to go to big parties and I am renewed by quiet and solitude. I don’t know that anyone would call me a hermit, but I frequently think about how nice it would be to live in a hermitage for a year, how at peace I would be once I could train my mind to bring the constant stream of unwelcome thoughts, the babble, to a halt. How much I would hear God…
I took a Personal Spirituality class as my first course in Seminary. One of the assignments was to spend two periods of two hours each in silence, solitude, and prayer. Some very odd things happened during this time; things that I would categorize as Extra Sensory Perception – as weird as that might sound. It’s very hard to describe, but I somehow attained “flashes” of some events that were yet to occur, and felt that I was given information regarding the circumstances of a friend, things that I had no possibility of knowing, but which were confirmed by her afterwards. I know that is all incredibly vague, but the experiences were very real to me, and I have no doubt that something outside of the ordinary happened, something that I did not make up in my mind or which could be chalked up to coincidence. But these oddities are not what draws me back to silence.
Simon ben Gamaliel said: ‘All my days have I grown up among the sages, and I have found nothing better for a man than silence.’
There is something about being still and listening to the silence that makes me feel like I hear God. 20 mins alone with a still mind, and all of a sudden I can see clearly, I have heard a word, and I come out with a purposeful mission. “Be still and know that I am God.” And also, for me, be still and know thyself. And be still and be healed. And be still and find your mission again. Sometimes I picture what’s going on during my times of contemplation as the defragmentation of a computer. I am no technology whiz, but my understanding is that defragmenting a hard drive puts all the “loose files” where they need to go. Rightly ordered. Maybe that’s what’s happening to me, or what God is doing.
Huxley wrote that the 20th century was the Age of Noise. “Physical noise, mental noise, and noise of desire – we hold history’s record for all of them.” And the 21st is no different. Some of my students can’t study, read, or even sleep without headphones. We have learned to distract ourselves 24/7. And if it’s not physical, as Huxley observed, it’s mental. In our age, who hasn’t sat down to read a book, and then got up 8 times to do something before we start. We can’t focus. Trying to sit for a half hour of prayer is literally an impossible task for some, and increasingly hard for me as well. But the more I train myself to still my mind and listen, the more I can feel the Presence and Leading of God in my life.
Dale Allison, in The Luminous Dusk, wrote:
Silence…should not be thought of as negation, as the absence of sound. It should instead be envisaged as a desirable presence. Silence is the life-giving atmosphere human beings were intended to breathe, the heaven-sent manna that feeds soul, mind, and even body. It is, most importantly, the bridge between this plane of existence and whatever planes may lie beyond.