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05 June 2011

Keep Silence

I think I was in high school when I first came across the word "retreat" used in the monastic sense of keeping silence for a period of time, three days or five or a week or whatever it may be, to focus on spiritual things and possibly to prepare for a major event. Maria von Trapp, for instance, took a week-long retreat at her convent before marrying the Captain in order to focus on the seriousness of the decision she was making and enter her new life ready to devote herself to it. (Since I've seen pretty much every "nun" movie there is, I was quite fascinated by the idea when I was in high school. Not in the sense of wanting be monastic, but in the sense of wanting to understand what it was like and why anyone would choose that path.)

Source.
But I didn't know that Protestants, or even non-monastics, could also keep focused silence for a time. (I know; I keep marvelling at just how dumb I can be.) The first time I heard of it was not until many years later, in fact, when our Bible class teacher taught a series on Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, working through the 12 classical spiritual disciplines, one at a time, with exercises to boot. Discipline #7 is Solitude, often referred to as Solitude and Silence (even Foster, in the book, says the name could go either way; each one implies the other). As we discussed it in class, it became clear that many people in our group were freaked out at the idea of keeping silence even for a few minutes-- it's so ingrained in our culture to have background noise, like the TV or radio, going all the time. Even after turning all those noises off, of course, one still has appliances, traffic, noisy neighbours, etc to contend with: No wonder silence is such an alien concept.

And yet, there must be a reason that Habakkuk writes, "But the LORD is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him." (Hab. 2:20) Is there value in keeping silence? Habakkuk thought so. Richard Foster and my former Bible class teacher think so. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of eat, pray, love, also thinks so: She devotes a chapter or two to the practise of silence at the Ashram she visited in India. Unfortunately, this isn't something I've practised often in my life, so I can't really comment, except to say that I'm sure we've all had times when silence is welcomed-- when a screaming child falls asleep, or when a chatty acquaintance moves on, or when a loud TV is switched off. These times of genuine relief make me crave silence more.

Have you ever practised silence as a discipline? Or even as a break from a noisy day? What was it like?

6 comments:

mybabyjohn said...

I crave silence but it is one of those things that is hard to find.

catherinemjohnson said...

Silence is very hard to find these days, and I even find that I forget to put any of my music on for a change the rare moments I am by myself simply because the silence is so nice :)

Su said...

@mybabyjohn: It really is. :(

@Catherine: Good choice!

....Petty Witter said...

I spend a lot of time alone and enjoy my own company but when I'm with people I don't particularly like silence - not because I find it uncomfortable or anything, its just that given the opportunity I like to talk.

You might be interested to know that Church of England vicars always go on a retreat just before they are ordained into the church as a priest.

nutschell said...

I love moments of silence. Its an island of peace in this crazy, busy world.
nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Su said...

@Petty: Similar to the retreats I was reading about, then. Guess it really is okay for Protestants. ;)

@Nutschell: It's getting to the point that I don't even like the A/C coming on, because it's so loud! Who needs another noisy thing?

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