Thursday, May 14, 2009

Solitude and Silence

"Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life." - Dallas Willard, "The Spirit of the Disciplines."

Though we were meant for community, and though communication is essential, often we saturate our lives with noise and company in an attempt to fill a void in our hearts or to avoid allowing ourselves time to think. The spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence are powerful tools for a deeper communion with God. They are also disciplines that come far easier for some of us than others - as my wonderfully charming and gregarious wife can attest! For contemplatives and ascetics, it's an essential time, both for recharging our batteries and for drawing near to God.

Donald Whitney discusses these in his classic "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life" (Chapter 10 on this subject can be found at his web site). There he defines the discipline of silence as "the voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought." Solitude is related, it is "voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes... Think of silence and solitude as complementary disciplines to fellowship. Without silence and solitude we're shallow. Without fellowship we're stagnant. Balance requires them all."

Whitney gives some excellent reasons for practicing silence and solitude:
- To follow the example of Jesus
- To better hear the voice of God
- To express worship to God
- To express to God
- To be physically and spiritually restored
- To regain a spiritual perspective
- To seek the will of God
- To learn control of the tongue

Ruth Haley Barton wrote a book on just this subject, "Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence." In it she shares some tips for this practice.
1. Identify a sacred place and time for you
2. Begin with a modest goal (the length isn't as important as the regularity)
3. Select a comfortable yet alert physical posture
4. Begin with a simple prayer expressing your openness and desire for God
5. Close your time in silence with a prayer of gratitude for God's presence
6. Resist the urge to judge yourself on your expectations in silence

Others have pointed out that solitude and silence require attention - if you don't engage the mind you'll fall asleep :)  Consider memorized Scripture, meditating on it; consider an attribute of God (as well as the fact that He is present); consider the faithful actions of God in the past (both in your life, in the church, in history); and listen in active stillness.

If you find yourself constantly in a state of hurriedness and unease... consider the benefit of silence and solitude in the pursuit of godliness (and sanity!)

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