The Rhythm of Silence

Do you ever feel too connected? Between televisions, internet, phones, texting, emails, voicemails, blogging, Facebook and Twitter, where do we find time to disconnect and enjoy silence?

But who would ever think of silence as enjoyable? 

Perhaps the mother of toddlers might relish the thought of solitude and silence but the default for most of us is to hit a power switch and connect during our downtime. Solitude or secrecy are becoming increasingly rare.

Is it possible to be too available? Too visible? 

Uncomfortably quiet

Have you ever thought of silence as an uncomfortable experience? Many avoid silence and prefer noise. But what does it tell us when distraction and noise feel better than being alone with our thoughts?

Solitude and silence (as spiritual disciplines) should quiet, refresh and strengthen our hearts. When we practice silence and solitude in the secret place with God, our thoughts are quieted in His presence. “Be still and know that I am God” (psalm 46:10).

What did the wise teacher intend when he wrote, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2). 

Take a time out

“The best way to achieve silence during worship is to practice silence as part of our everyday lives. Many parents teach their children discipline through “time out” periods—when they are squirrelly or defiant or doing something they shouldn’t, they have a time out period in which they can think about their behavior and make other choices. The same is true and necessary for us older children, youths, and young and older adults. When we feel tense and testy, we need to take “time out”—just a few minutes to gather ourselves, to become quiet inside, to calm down and refocus. When this is a natural habit of our daily lives, then when silence is introduced at specific times during worship we are perfectly comfortable with it and know how to use this precious time to focus ourselves on God in a different way from how we are present to God during the rest of the service” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).

A Rhythm to learnsilence and speaking

There’s a time for everything, the wise teacher wrote, “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (3:7).

“But who knows which is which? Who knows how to tell time? Who knows when to speak up and when to keep still? Who knows when silence is golden and when it is lazy or even cowardly?”

“The wise know these things. Wise persons discern the deep grains and patterns of God’s world, and then they try to go with the grain. These are persons whose habits are always in season. They’ve got rhythm where silence and speech are concerned. And so they imitate God by not talking all the time. They’ve got more silences than words, and their silences are just as disciplined and just as thoughtful as their words. They speak only from the context of silence, and when they have nothing valuable to say, they fall silent again.”

“We have met wise people like this. They have high quality words because they have high quality silences. Sometimes their silences are eloquent. Wise speakers may say more or less than others, but usually less, and always less that needs to be taken back. They give the impression of speaking out of a stillness at their center, a quiet place in which they are at home with themselves, in touch with God, and hospitable to the voices of others.”

“Silence is the natural context for speaking, but also for listening. What do we hear if we pipe down for a while? We hear the voices of others—not just their words, but their voices. We hear a quaver in a macho voice, or strength in a quiet voice. We also listen for the sounds and the silences of God. The silences of God! So mysterious they are, and so deep. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak, and God has kept this calendar a lot longer than we have” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).

Losing the Rhythm

“But silence puzzles people. They meet a silence and they wonder what’s wrong. Or silence makes people restless. The effect is just the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d expect that people would enter a silence and fold their wings. You’d expect that inside a silence people would smooth out and settle down. But that’s not the way it goes. Oddly, a fair number of people find silence disquieting.”

“If you go to a big league sports event and the announcer asks for a moment of silence to honor some fallen hero, people will do it all right. People bow their heads, and the place gets quiet. But it’s never for a full moment. No, you get about twelve seconds of silence, and when it’s over there’s an explosion of cheering and whistling, as if the whole place had been holding its breath and had let it out at once. Twelve seconds of silence, and then we’re glad that’s over, so life can get back to normal.”

“Silence puzzles people and it makes them restless. So they try to get rid of it. People haul their boom boxes to the seashore so that they don’t have to live in the silence between the rolling of surf and the crying of gulls. People crank up the mega-bass in their car stereos and cruise through a neighborhood, blowing all the birds out of the trees. People on subway trains conduct noisy and personal phone conversations. People turn on talk shows and fill their homes with hours of chatter. Some of this chatter is hostile. Some of it, amusing. But mostly the chatter is pointless, what Ephesians calls ‘unwholesome talk.’”

“The truth is that silence is part of the created rhythm of human life. The question of whether we need any silences goes to who we are, not just to what we want. That’s why a loss of silence is so serious. A loss of silence is as serious as a loss of memory, and just as disorienting. Silence is, after all, the natural context from which we listen. Silence is also the natural context from which we speak. A culture that fills in our silences therefore disorients us. It rips away our frame. It removes the background, the base of intelligibility for all our listening and speaking” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).

Steve Cornell

See: Spiritual Disciplines for developing a heart for God

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Discipline, Silence, Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual growth, Spiritual inventory, Spiritual transformation. Bookmark the permalink.

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