Monday, April 16, 2007

Spiritual Disciplines of Silence and Solitude

[note: this post was earlier posted as ''Come apart before you come apart" and "Silence"]

Come Apart Before You Come Apart:
The Healing Spiritual Disciplines of Silence and Solitude.

Silence and solitude are important spiritual disciplines that we must all cultivate. Henri Nouwen observes that many of our ministries follow a certain pattern. We start by starting a ministry which usually leads to frustration. Then we ask certain people whom we think can help us but in the process create certain problems. Then we pray to God to help us solve these problems. Much of our lives are vicious cycles of frustration and problem solving.

Jesus, during his early ministry takes time out for times of silence and solitude. We too need time out for silence and solitude because our bodies are not built for constant stress.

What are some of the benefits of a time of silence and solitude? First, we will develop a discerning spirit. We get to know the Holy Spirit better when we are silent and when we are alone. Then there is no distraction. There is time to think and reflect. This will sharpen our skills of spiritual discernment.

Second, our prayers will become more natural, not hurried and more meaningful. Our prayers become a conversation rather than shopping lists. Our prayers become the second word. The first word is when God speaks to us. The second word is when we speak to God.

Third, silence and solitude makes us more sensitive to people. After a time alone, we drop our social armours, masks and walls. We discover that constant interactions with people can make us callous and insensitive. A time of silence and solitude can help us to become more sensitive to people again.

Finally, silence and solitude helps us to face our death. This may some strange but we all die alone. Silence and solitude helps us to come to terms with ourselves and makes us more aware of our own mortality. I am indebted to Dr. Sherbino for this insight.

It was said of Abba Agathon, a desert father, that for three years he lived with a stone in his mouth, until he had learned to keep silence.

What one discovers in the virtue of silence (hesychia) is patience. It is in silence and stillness that we develop attentiveness and awareness. It is through this attentiveness and awareness that we come to self-knowledge. The desert fathers and mothers are very aware of the importance of silence.

It is through the spiritual discipline of silence that we can hear, be aware of, and be sensitive to what is happening around us, and within us. Silence is not the absence of sounds, of words, and of voices. It is the pause between sounds, between words, and between voices. It makes sense of what is spoken and what is unspoken. Silence is also the thread that holds our words and our actions. It is not an absence that makes silence, but a fullness of a presence.

We use words to justify ourselves, to defend our actions, to extend our influence, and to define our self-identity. Silence deconstructs us. Silence is a dying to self. Silence is a way of surrendering self in the hope of a resurrection.

Abba Alonius, another desert father, said: "If I had not destroyed myself completely, I would not have been able to rebuild and reshape myself again."

Silence never comes easy. We are always impatient to speak. Have you even wondered why do we need to speak? What motivates our speech?

Abba Poemen, yet another one, said: "Someone may seem to be silent, but if in the heart one is condemning others, then one is babbling ceaselessly. And there may be another who talks from morning till evening, and yet in the heart that person is truly silent. That person says nothing that is not profitable."

It is said that the language of God is silence. The language we shall speak in heaven. Is that why we find it so difficult to speak it here on earth? We can practice silence and solitude without going on a retreat. Most of us associate silence and solitude with a retreat. Yes, a retreat will be an ideal place for prolonged silence and solitude and all of us should aim to spend some time every year in a spiritual retreat. However we can also have silence and solitude in our everyday life. Take a long and solitary walk everyday or as often as you can. Take a walk with a friend and agree not to say anything. You can also decide to spend a day of silence in your home or check yourself into a hotel. Lock yourself in the bathroom. There are many other ways to find silence and solitude. It is a matter of whether we want to do it or not.

Reflection Questions:

(1) How important is it to have some silence and solitude in your life?
(2) How will you make time in your schedule for some time of silence and solitude?
(3) What are some of the first words you will like to hear, and second words you will like to offer in your time of silence and solitude?

O Lord, help us to find time in our busy schedule for some silence and solitude. Teach us to speak the language of silence, and help us to be at peace in solitude. Show us that solitude is not loneliness but is being fully in Your presence. In silence and with a grateful heart we pray.”


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Blogger lilian koh said...

Thanks Alex, for the reminder. Think we need to hear this from time to time. This spiritual discipline is hard for most people because we find ourselves more inclined to 'doing' and even when frustrated we turn to 'problem solving' couching it in spiritual terms. In sp direction, I often suggest 10- 15 min silence a day - the directees say it is the hardest thing to do! I think we also need to warn people to expect all sorts of distractions and constant chattering in their heads for some time (a long time even)- but not to give up. It certainly gives us a good measure of humbling self-knowledge as we come to see how distracted we really are and how dependent we are on God.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi Lilian,

Silence is golden as they say. Finding silence in solitude is a wonderful gift.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Club 108 said...

Very interesting thoughts Alex
I would be interested to hear what you and your readers think of a similarly themed article I just had published at Elephant Journal.

“The Lost Art of Being Alone with God”

7:03 AM  

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