Sheer Silence: Part Four

This is the fourth installment, where we explore a key question:  In the midst of the busyness and noise of daily life, where can we turn for perspective and refreshment?

This question is particularly compelling during the holiday season.  The demands and expectations can be overwhelming and unrealistic.  The busyness can drown out the underlying spiritual essence of the season.

Within my tradition, Advent marks a four-week journey, ushering us towards the promise of the Christ child and the hope He represents.   My Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate Hanukkah, marking the eight-day festival of light as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Still others find meaning in the rhythm of the seasons. The Winter Solstice marks the longest night (honored with fire, dance and reflection).

Each of these ritualized events create cosmic space for a meeting of awe, wonder, gratitude and humility. A space which reminds us of the enormity and mystery within which we find our place.

What then can we do to step away from that which distracts us?   How can we enter more fully  into the cosmic search which the various religious traditions invite us?

Walking through the woods at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center, during a silent retreat for Advent.

Here are a few suggestions:  Carve out 30 minutes each day to simply be quiet.  The premise is that in silence we become open and are met by a Source of wisdom, which is greater than oneself.

Be mindful.  For a period of time each day, whatever you are doing, do so mind fully.  Be fully present to where you are and who you are with.  Imagine what happens when you are fully present to your child, to your beloved, to nature, to ___.

Be grateful.  Studies show that a leading indicator of happiness is an intentional practice of being grateful.  Consider making a list each day of at least three things you are grateful for.

Be kind.  Each day offer at least one-act of kindness, large or small.  Kindness expands our heart and mind.

Be unplugged.  This one is particularly challenging.  Recent studies show that many of us are addicted to our smartphones.  Indeed, social media platforms are designed to train us to spend more and more time on our devices.   A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania https://www.thecollegefix.com/college-students-happier-when-they-limit-social-media-campus-roundup-ep-36/ indicated that college students who limit themselves to 30 minutes on social media each day, saw a significant increase in their sense of mental well-being and connection to others.

This sacred season, whatever your spiritual path may be…may you carve out space to simply be and listen for the wisdom that is yours.  In the mid 19th century, the theologian Soren Kierkegaard said: ‘God is always present, simply waiting to be found’.

May it be so, for those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

 

 

No Time for Silence

Some of us are better at being quiet than others.  Me?  I love to talk.  Give me a crowd and I become energized.

Yet, for a long time I’ve been aware of a part of me that yearns for silence.  When I was a boy I sought out quiet places, often in nature, to rest and reflect.  I remember finding refuge under a large Blue Spruce during a snow fall.  The flakes were large and quickly carpeted the boughs of the tree and floor of the forest.  Sound became muffled and I felt safe and fortunate to be in such a place at such a moment.

It has been a long time since I was that boy but I still remember the sound of silence.

Such is the tension I find within myself.  This enjoyment of conversation and being active…while an inner voice invites me to slow down and simply be.

Yesterday I arrived late to an organizing meeting of multi faith leaders in my community.  We were a mix of Buddhist, Jewish and Christian. We spent time exploring our purpose which took us down many paths.  As this was the early stage of our coming together we spent much of our meeting ‘muddling’ moving from topic to topic.

In the end we ran out of time and set another meeting to continue our search for clarity.

Our Buddhist host invited us to sit with her in silence.  Most had other items on their calendar and needed to move on.  I had items on my check list too but to my surprise decided to stay.

‘How long can you sit’, she asked? ‘I have ten minutes’, I replied.

So we sat.  In silence.  Facing the wall to minimize distractions.  She rang the Buddhist prayer bowl and we became quiet.

photo-zen-meditation

Ten minutes is nothing to a Zen Buddhist.  But for me this busy extroverted Baptist it was everything.  Those ten minutes of shared silence were like oxygen.

I felt my blood pressure drop and my breathing deepen.  When the bowl rang at the end of ten minutes I wanted, needed ten more.

Something happens in silence that doesn’t happen otherwise.  Ancient spiritual paths know this to be true:

‘Listen and your soul will live’. ~ Isaiah the prophet

‘Silence is a source of great strength.’ ~ Lao Tzu

‘The Creator’s first language is silence’. ~ Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and mystic

Perhaps by temperament you are naturally drawn to silence.  Perhaps like me you’re not.  But I know too that ones comfort with silence can be nurtured, cultivated.  In so doing we may find ourselves gradually going deeper and deeper, to hear a voice that paradoxically is silence itself.

 

Keep Open, Look Closely


“The mystics invite us to remember what we all too often forget: That great mystery we call God, is everywhere present in the world, suffusing creation with the being of the Holy. Once in a while, if we keep our eyes open, if we look closely enough, something amid the familiar reveals itself, offers itself to us in a new way. What we know, what we have learned, is taken apart. Is remade. Remakes us.”
~ Jan Richardson, Source: In the Sanctuary of Women

I’ve been exploring this quote from various vantage points this Lenten season. Lent is a 40 day season in the Christian calendar (exclusive of Sundays) that guides people of faith towards the promise of Easter. It is a season for intentional reflection looking for the sacred within the familiar.

Lent invites us to let go of that which distracts us so as to become steeped in that which is eternal. Last week I gathered with an ecumenical group for the purpose of listening. It’s sad but true, that Christians don’t always play well in the sand box together. It is a hopeful sign when various branches of the Christian tradition gather for a shared purpose. The method we chose is Centering Prayer a simple yet profound form of becoming quiet so to hear what (paradoxically) can only be heard in silence.

Thomas Keating a Trappist monk re-introduced this ancient practice of Centering Prayer. He invites us to:

‘Spend 20 – 30 minutes sitting in silence. Choose a ‘sacred word’ that will help you return to silence when distracted. Our word can be ‘God, Jesus, Abba’, or a feeling word ‘love, peace, hope, quiet’. Centering Prayer is like a deep-sea diver who slowly slips into the water and sinks deeper and deeper. When a distracted thought inevitably arises, it is as if the diver bobs back to the surface. It is then we quietly speak/think our sacred word, which allows us to sink yet again into the depth of silence.’

It is in this silence says Keating that we are able to ‘hear God’s voice speaking into the depth of our being’. Being quiet can be a counter cultural act. In the midst of our busy schedules and over stimulated brains, quiet offers us respite and renewal. For me there is something powerful about shared gathered silence. I can’t quantify it or measure it but as the Quakers would put it ‘a sense of common ground emerges that can only be found through silence.’

Perhaps you reading this have no faith tradition or are from another faith tradition. For you too the invitation awaits, that in silence we discover ‘something within the familiar’ that otherwise may have been missed.

Where do you go to be quiet? Perhaps walking your dog, savoring your morning coffee, working in your garden, hiking in the woods, sitting in a church/temple/mosque, walking on the beach? Where do you go to move beyond distractions and simply be? For me a favorite place is kayaking on the water, sometimes simply floating, becoming immersed literally and metaphorically in my surroundings.

Kayak lone paddler photo

Wherever your quiet journey takes you, to solitary places or community, I hope that you too hear a voice of blessing that can only be received in silence. Travel well.

Note: If you live on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the 4th Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. a community wide group meets to practice centering prayer. For location contact me at kharrop@fbcbeverly.org.

God’s First Language

Picture 016

Thomas Keating, the Catholic monk and mystic writes:

“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God.”

When I was in high school, a teacher said to me: “I must have the radio or television on at home. I can’t stand to be by myself.” At the time I found that curious. But the older I became the more I understood what he was saying. To be alone is to face what is going on in one’s mind and heart and that can be a scary place to be.

Yet all religious traditions, including Christian, reminds us that in being quiet we not only sit with our thoughts of light or darkness, but we make room to be met by God. Keating reminds us that in order to hear God we must first be quiet. Rather than silence being a place of discomfort, faith reminds us that it can be a place of meeting where we are reminded by our Creator that we are known and cherished.

Sometimes we need to be quiet to gain perspective. In our busy lives how then do we listen? Keating suggests Contemplative Prayer: ‘Each day carve out 20 minutes to be silent…allow thoughts to pass like boats on a river without judgement….select a sacred word (hope, love, peace etc.) to help focus you when you become distracted’.

In time the ancient monks and mystics tell us, we will begin to hear the Creator’s voice in the midst of the silence. In doing so we find ourselves no longer fleeing silence but embracing it as a place where we are met by the Source of all that is good, lasting and true.