Today a few words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer set me on a contemplative path; I’m thinking about silence. Not the silence that equals no sound, but that interior silence where we can hear ourselves think and discern the still, small voice of God whispering in the depths of our heart.
As determined as I was to rise an hour before my children, morning quiet times were a challenge when my kids were young. 7:00 am? Right. That’s almost midday for pre-schoolers. 6:00 am? My daughter stayed asleep, bless her heart. But minutes after settling into my chair with Bible and coffee in hand, my son padded down the stairs. 5:00 am? Nope.
Have you ever jolted awake out of a dead sleep in the middle of the night only to find a bat in your house? It made no audible sound, but somehow you knew it was there. That was my son; internal sensors. It was spooky. I started rising at 4:00 am and won the war for an hour of peace and quiet.
When they became teenagers, our youngest entered the family at the age of 18 months, and we started all over again. She made her older brother look like a hack with her mama-tracking skills. At this time, my husband had converted a red backyard shed into a place for me to pray and write. I had a saying: Enter my peace or leave my space. I said it dozens of times a day. I wanted a wooden sign over the door; I wanted it etched in stone or tattooed on multiple body parts. Honestly, I’m surprised my kids still talk to me.
Now I know something about silence that I didn’t know then. While the absence of noise is pleasant, inner silence doesn’t require that everything and everyone around you stops moving, squeaking, chatting, lawn-mowing, snow-blowing, or chain-sawing. Regularly withdrawing from our frenetic, multi-tasking, harried, and hurried world to pray is also needed, but we can learn to carry that profound silence within us. It’s a matter of sinking into it. It is a spiritual discipline.
I’ve also learned that interior silence is generous and will always give way when someone else needs your words. I am an introvert who loves people but craves and needs silent solitude. In the past, I have mistaken selfish desire for healthy boundaries and have not always been generous to others with my time and presence. I’ve learned that interior silence is not fragile. God does not flutter away like a startled starling when something needs our attention; he is always waiting. We need only turn our minds to him in faith to find him near. This is the kind of truth God reveals as we sit in silence before his word. Silent moments are holy moments.
But many of us are afraid of silence, filling every inch of space with exterior noise and internal chatter. Bonhoeffer writes his thoughts on this, saying:
We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order not to have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order not to have to look at ourselves in the mirror.
Perhaps we need to stop and ask ourselves what we’re afraid of. Are we afraid of being alone with God or of seeing ourselves in his light? Either way, it is his perfect love that casts out that and every other fear.
A small way to begin practicing silence is at the beginning and end of every day. The final word from Pastor Bonhoeffer, from his advent book, God is in the Manger:
We are silent in the early hours of each day because God is supposed to have the first words, and we are silent before going to sleep, because to God also belongs the last word.
Be still and know that I am God – Psalms 46:10