Posts Tagged With: silence

The Silence

Why do we fear solitude and silence?

We appear to be apprehensive about spending scarcely twenty minutes just sitting down, doing nothing, listening to nothing, thinking of nothing in particular, simply allowing ourselves to exist in the moment. Every technological advance, everything mass media and advertising throws at us is aimed at ensuring that we do not have to stop and contemplate, but instead move and do things quicker. A recent advertisement for a well-known mobile phone company recently summed up modern thinking very well when it half-jokingly claimed that impatience was a virtue. Such is the very real need for communication to be faster.

I would argue that we fear solitude because there is something at the very heart of ourselves that we fear. Shall we call it a soul? It is seemingly unknown. If we had the time and space to reflect then we may be forced to confront our own mortality, discover more about who we are and ask ourselves real, deeper questions, possibly disquieting questions. Everything modern society creates is therefore perfectly suited to combatting this fear and (thankfully) allows us neither the time nor the desire to have to find out.

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Spiritual workout

Assuming belief in the supernatural, if humans have a spirit, can it grow?
Christians would answer affirmatively, but maybe the real question is whether its’ development is something that they take an active part in. Physical training is undoubtedly vital for sportsmen and women, who live lives dedicated to getting the best out of their physical bodies and skills. They commit to following a monitored diet and fitness regime. They don’t expect to simply turn up and be able to perform and play to the best of their abilities. Similarly, I believe that if Christians are to take their faith seriously, then the same principle of training and commitment to a certain lifestyle needs to be applied. Whilst Christians are saved by God’s grace, and cannot earn their salvation, they are clearly responsible for their lives and how they live them. St. Paul says that “while physical exercise has some value, spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next” (1 Tim 4:8). In my view, the question of what this “spiritual exercise” looks like can best be answered by studying the spiritual disciplines such as solitude and fasting that have long been practiced throughout the ages and that were also central to Jesus Christ’s life – Christ was tempted by the devil whilst in the middle of a long period of fasting and before he was arrested to be crucified, He purposefully spent time alone in prayer.

See: Dallas Willard – ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines’.

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Into the desert

“We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is only a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God.”

Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation.

I am not very good at any kind of purposeful meditation or contemplation. To spend long periods of time in solitude attempting to be still or ‘look within myself’ feels too hard, too anxiety ridden. I have tried many times but invariably end up surrendering after about three minutes, congratulate myself on a job half done and resolve to try again another time.

For this reason, reading Thomas Merton’s book about contemplation has been very insightful and quite exciting. He accepts that physical solitude and interior silence are important for a contemplative life, but forcefully rejects the idea that we need to ‘go into the desert’ simply because we like or need to be alone. As highlighted in the above quote, for Merton, contemplation is important so that we can learn how we can best be of service to our neighbour, friend, brother, or stranger. I very much like this idea, because I believe in a relational God. I believe that a life is at its most fulfilled when we are fully invested in the lives of others, those who are our natural friends, and those who are suffering.

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Going after

Modern man: When I have finished my current piece of work and that long awaited side project, when this venture has finally been completed and I eventually get round to starting that job and seeing it through to the end, then I will find myself once again at the mercy of whatever life throws at me next.

To its great cost, society places little value on sanctuary. Silence is considered to be for the monks, meditation to be Eastern, and prayer an act of desperation. We are totally dependent on background noise. Something has to be happening, all of the time. Society’s ultimate tool, the internet, is great for information, but is an enemy of thought.

I am not yet going to propose a radical solution. For the time being I just wanted to reflect on this state of affairs and encourage us to consider the consequences that this has on our lives.

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