I turned off the radio in disgust. My blood was boiling, again, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed the silence of no hateful talk or adults bickering like children. I needed the silence of just being with God and feeling God’s breath breathing in me and breathing out the bad thoughts that were fomenting a revolution in my soul. I needed Elijah’s silence that reminded me that God is always present. I needed silence of heart, mind, body and soul so that God’s peace could calm me down.
Do you remember “silent lunch” in elementary school? When the teacher had had enough of a student and she/he declared that you now had “earned” a silent lunch? I avoided that sentence like the plague, looking soulfully empathetic toward any poor student who had those unfortunate words spoken to them.
I had the fortunate experience of declaring my own “silent lunch” some months ago as I participated in a retreat at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. As the retreatants headed toward the food line, we passed a room with folding doors which declared with a printed sign that the enclosed space was for silent meals only. This was not punishment. It was, what I personally found, a place of solace and comfort. It called out to me and I eagerly took my tray of food into the soothing silence.
It was not the first time I had experienced a silent meal on retreat. It’s just that it had been a long while since I had a silent meal and I was dearly in need of such. I found, as I had before, that I could hear myself chew, that I could savor my food, and that my thoughts didn’t race ahead of me. I had no one to whom I owed small talk; I had no one asking me questions that distracted me from enjoying this time with body-enriching food and soul-satisfying thoughts.
Please understand that I am certainly not against talking over a meal. I get together with friends over lunch often and they are usually times of growing deeper in relationship with one another. But I have to admit that I need times of silence as I am eating to help me appreciate who planted and harvested the food, who prepared it for me to buy, and to say a prayer for those who struggle to put food on their table.
From my own experience of sitting with God and my true self in silence, I have learned much. Not always things I want to admit about myself or even what I want to hear from God, yet those times of silence allow me to step back, breathe deep, assess my life with God honestly, and then to move forward (hopefully).
My efforts to practice centering prayer, twenty minutes of silence “in which we experience God’s presence within us…a receptive prayer of resting in God” (see www.centeringprayer.com), has taught me over the years that my life and prayer life is enhanced by silence. My activities are more energized and more God-directed when I take the time to leave the cacophonous sounds of the world for a little while, enter into silence, and return refreshed.
Silence is not to be scoffed at. It is life giving and God-infused when one enters into it with intentions of being in communion with the living God. Too often our own agendas dominate our lives, our thoughts and our foul words to one another. Silence teaches humility.
I turned off the radio, and continued driving in silence, thinking how wonderful it would be if many of us took the time to sit in silence for a little while. Maybe arguments and wars and political in-fighting would be seen for what they are – humanity’s way of proving who is right by yelling the loudest and pointing fingers, and guns, at fellow human beings so we can feel good about ourselves. Sitting in silence can change our words and our direction for the better when we allow God to join us in the silence.
As I get ready to head out for another appointment, I may turn my car radio back on. Or I may sit in silence. Better yet, perhaps I will just sit for a few moments where road signs and traffic won’t distract me, and just be in God’s presence. It will certainly help bring my boiling blood back to a low simmer and possibly even direct my energies into a path of peace. I know it won’t solve the problems of our world, but I may find that, “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard (my heart) and (my mind) in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). And, as the song goes, “let peace begin with me.”