26 August 2013

Difficulties With Silence

[[Dear Sister, I try and try to keep silent, but I just can't seem to do it! I talk and sing, I call my friends, I turn on the TV or play a CD. When I do manage to stay silent or keep from talking I am a mess inside and even my insides feel like they want to yell out! Even when I pray all I want to do is talk to God. I want to tell God how much I love him. That's okay, isn't it? At the same time though how do I learn to keep silent?]]

What I am going to talk about briefly here is both external silence and the more difficult inner silence. Both may be a source of difficulty for you. Ideally this is something you would work on with your spiritual director so if you have not got one it is something I would suggest. In the meantime let me talk a little about what is difficult for me with regard to silence.

Have you ever had a good friend who simply gave you space to be yourself? This is someone you can be silent with, sit in the quiet of the sun's warmth and simply feel gratitude with and for.  Perhaps it is someone you have taken a long drive with or sat silently in a hospital waiting room with and only spoken to occasionally throughout --- because you don't need to do any more than this. Perhaps the two of you prayed silently while waiting and simply reassured one another of your love through your presence. My experience of God is like this most times. He knows me so well (certainly better than I know myself!) there is rarely anything to tell him --- and my words always fall short anyway! Similarly, God rarely uses words to speak to me. He is present in silence; his silence is communicative. It is loving and spacious and forgiving, and it allows me to find and see myself clearly there.

But sometimes I don't want to be found like this. Sometimes I want things on my own terms; I am not comfortable always with a God whose very self is an abyss of living silence or who makes room within himself for the WHOLE of myself. While words may serve as a prelude to entering this space, too often I use words at these times to distance myself, to "reveal" small parts of myself and to withhold others, to affirm my love for God at the same time I am afraid of giving myself over to him completely. Most often I do it without even realizing I am doing so. It is simply hard to believe God loves me as exhaustively as he does or to allow God to reveal himself on his own terms as the loving God he is . This is one reason silence can be difficult for me.

Another main and correlative reason silence is difficult is because I am not comfortable with myself or with something that is going on within myself. It may be the result of work I am doing in direction, or something that came up in dreams or in prayer. It may be the result of something someone said to or about me, or which triggered memories I have either forgotten or avoided. It may be my own sinfulness. It may be that God is calling me to something that frightens me or challenges me in ways I want to resist (the day's Scriptures are excellent for this!). But whatever the reason, at these times it is easier to turn on a movie or a CD, or to grab a book (especially fiction!) than it is to remain silently with myself and simply rest in God. Let me be clear though, it is not always wrong to avoid silence for these reasons so long as we are aware of them and take the time and use the tools we have to work through them. At these times we can use words to signal our own reluctance and resistance and to find ways to approach entering the silence we most need. They can be a kind of temporizing, but they will also lead to insight. Besides prayer, journaling and spiritual direction are the best ways for me to do this. If you have not adopted the practice of journaling or, again, if you are not yet working with a spiritual director, I would recommend both.

When you describe your insides wanting to yell out, these two reasons are the ones I most associate with that. Sometimes I also feel tremendously excited and want to shout something from the rooftops. It needs to be shared and shouts out for that. I felt that way after retreat this last week. It took me three days to actually quiet down sufficiently to attend properly to what I was feeling and yet, when I journal about things or email someone about some aspect of my time in Santa Barbara, the same excitement is stirred up again. One thing that may differ from what you describe is that I know silence is the only way to hold everything I am excited about; it is the only way to really honor it, to share it with the God who is its source and to thank him for it. Thus, at the same time I want to shout from the mountain tops I want to sink into a deeper silence which can do justice to everything --- and that desire grows progressively more intense or pervasive as I practice it.

You also describe talking and singing, etc. I wonder if this means you are not allowing sufficient time and place for both of these. For instance, I sing several times a day and what I sing has different moods. It depends upon the hour and the tenor of the prayer. If you have a real need to sing, then I would suggest you find legitimate ways to meet that need. The same is true with talking to others. Build some time in for that and then, the rest of the time silence might be easier for you. Silence is a living reality and it takes time to establish a relationship with it. It also takes time to break habits which simply don't honor silence --- for instance, turning on the TV or CD player automatically when one walks in the door or gets up or something similar.

Most folks aren't silent during meals, for instance, and wouldn't know what to do if they couldn't watch TV, talk to someone, etc. We really do need to learn to be silent and to simply be present. The only way to do that is to practice external silence and work on those things which cause us to be internally noisy or which prevent us from loving or accepting ourselves. You can do that during walks, by setting aside time for working on hobbies silently, spending time in other silent pursuits (and refusing to be disturbed during these), turning off media of all kinds during certain hours, and journaling (as well as praying) about the things that present obstacles to silence. The bottom line is we need to work on both pieces of silence if we are to come to rest in and really hear what it communicates.

I am hoping that some of this is helpful to you. It is very general, but then I don't really know you or why silence is difficult for you. If it raises more questions for you or is confusing, please do get back to me.