Silence Can Be Challenging
Rector Chris Girata's latest article in the Katy Trail Weekly
Last week, my wife and I stole some time on Friday while the kids were at school to go see a movie. (OK, I confess. It was “Downton Abbey”.) As we all know, before any movie, there is a moment when the theater company reminds everyone present not to use their phones or talk amongst themselves, so they don’t disturb the other patrons. When I was a child, the phrase I remember seeing was “silence is golden.” Silence is indeed polite in a full movie theater, but perhaps silence is a golden opportunity for us in other parts of our lives, too.
I am what some would call an extreme extrovert. I love to talk and the idea of silence stresses me out. When I was in seminary, we always had one “quiet day” each semester. We were supposed to begin the day with a short prayer service, then go from that point until the evening prayer service in silence. For some, this was a welcome break, a chance to just rest and relax. But for me, I felt like a balloon about to burst. I decided that if I could be silent until 10 a.m. that would be good enough.
Last week, I taught a class about a group of important thinkers who would remove themselves from the world and literally go out into the wilderness to be quiet, to think, to pray and to listen. Just preparing the lesson was hard for me because I couldn’t fathom doing that. The idea of going out into the wilderness alone and to be quiet makes me sick to my stomach.
As an extrovert, I often joke that I don’t know what I think until I hear myself say it and teaching this class was no different. I walked through the history and context of these thinkers, unpacking the world in which they lived, and then began to explain why they went off on their own. And as I did, I said, “They knew they needed to allow themselves the space to put down their worries and concerns in order to make space for God. They needed to be quiet in order to hear God’s voice.” Just like that, I heard myself say what I needed to hear.
If you’re anything like me, your life is busy. Sometimes I like to use euphemistic terms like “full” to describe my life, but honestly, I’m mostly just busy. The busyness is seductive. We live in a culture that celebrates activity and productivity and tends to look suspiciously at too much “downtime.” Most of us got where we are because we worked hard, and that hard work can become a pattern that holds us tight. But I wonder what we might be missing.
There is a long history of thinkers who separate themselves from the world in order to seek the truth such as Thoreau, Gandhi, Curie, Einstein and, of course, Jesus just to name a few. These great thinkers regularly removed themselves from others in order to be silent, to pray and to listen. When is the last time you took an intentional break from the busyness of your life in order to be quiet and to listen?
For many, a break like this is a luxury they cannot afford. And yet, I wonder if there are small opportunities to stop and listen, to truly break from the rush of our lives. For some, a morning or afternoon off is a chance to rest. For others, small moments throughout the day can refresh. (I am regularly reminded by my smartwatch to spend 60 seconds breathing deeply, although, I typically ignore the prompting.) However you find them, I encourage you to seize small moments this week when you can hit pause, when you can put down whatever is weighing on you, and be intentionally quiet. Calming our hearts and minds is good for our health and good for our souls. Plus, you never know what you might hear when you’re really able to listen.
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