Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Silence and Solitude

Sometimes during a noisy party or a particularly stressful day, we automatically want to sneak away from all the noise and stimulation to somewhere quiet; away from the crowd. It is just our brain trying to protect itself from overstimulation. Away from the crowd reduces stress on the brain, allowing it space to think and listen to itself. This is the basis of the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude. It is time away from the noisy busy world to a place where we can hear ourselves think. It is also during silence and solitude that we can hear God’s voice. It does not matter if you are an extrovert or introvert, we all need times of silence and solitude.

It has been pointed out by some writers that ‘silence and solitude’ do not appear in the bible. That is an interesting observation because Jesus Christ’s ministry are matched by continual practice, not only of prayer itself but of intense times of silence and solitude.
·        Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days (Matt. 4:1).
·        He "withdrew a deserted place by himself after learning of the beheading of his dear friend and cousin, John the Baptizer (Matt. 14:13).
·        Following the incredible experience of feeding the five thousand, Jesus immediately "went up the mountain by himself to pray" (Matt. 14:23).
·        When the disciples were exhausted from the demands of ministry, Jesus told them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while" (Mark 6:31).
·        After Jesus' healing of a leper Luke seems to be describing more of a habitual practice than a single incident when he notes that Jesus "would withdraw to deserted places and pray" (Luke 5:16).
The gospels record that our Lord uses this spiritual discipline in conjunction with the spiritual disciplines of prayer and service. It also shows that Jesus is familiar with and uses this discipline frequently enough that it is recorded by the evangelist in an offhanded manner!

Recognizing the importance of this spiritual discipline, the Desert Fathers and Mothers left their homes and families to stay alone in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. This later gave rise to the Monastic movement where thousands of monasteries and convents were built. The monasteries and convent are places where the monks and nuns can spent their time in silence, solitude and prayer.

How do we practice this discipline in our busy hectic and noisy lifestyles? Many of us do not have chunks of time to be silent and to be in solitude. This is a misconception about the discipline of silent and solitude. We do not need to climb to the top of a mountain or move deep into the desert though it helps. We do not need large amount of time. Though we can practice this spiritual discipline for days, we can also do it for a few hours or a few minutes. David’s comfort is in delighting in the Lord by trusting, waiting, and being still before him (Psalm 37:1-11). Silence is not empty but filled with the Lord’s presence.

1.      Find a quiet place where you are safe and will not be disturb
2.      Close your eyes and calm your mind and body by slow deep breathing
3.      Picture a peaceful scene in your mind – it may be a beautiful lake you have visited, a photo you remember, or a simple room with two chairs
4.      Pray to God for his protection and invite Jesus to join you at this peaceful place.
5.      Wait for Jesus to join you there. Feel his presence in the calmness. You may want to talk to him or just sit with him in silence.
6.      You may also use this time to meditate on a bible passage, praying, singing worshipful songs or writing in your journal
7.      When it is time to leave, leave the peaceful scene (which is a special place in your heart) slowly ( a timer app on your mobile is useful)
8.      Pray and gives thanks.
9.      Slowly open your eyes.

It is good to initially try this discipline for about 10 minutes. Then when you are comfortable, you may take longer periods. You can also do it a few times a day. I suggest a 20 minutes at lunch time and 20 minutes after dinner. You can combine this with your prayer time or Bible study time. It may be awkward at first. However, when you continue to practice it, it will become very easy to do. You will easily enter the quiet place of encounter with Jesus. A skilled practitioner of this spiritual discipline shared that she can practice silence and solitude while packed like sardines with other people on her daily bus commute to and fro from work every day.

Another way to experience the benefits of silence and solitude is to take a silent retreat. A silent retreat is not as scary and daunting as most people think. You do not have to jump into a 30 days silent retreat. Start with a retreat that offers half a day for silence and solitude. Then gradually increase the time to a full day, two days or more. It will usually takes about two days before your mind and body relaxes enough to fully enjoy the experience. However this does that mean that shorter silent retreats are not useful. Any intentional attempt to distant ourselves from the world to spend with God is always useful.


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