Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Solitude & silence

The class I'm teaching on spiritual disciplines will continue this Sunday, on the topic of solitude and silence. I think the two are practically inseparable. I also think they are practically impossible.

Well, not impossible...but the cultural deck is certainly stacked against us if we determine to seek out extended times to be alone and quiet. For one thing, most of us are afraid to be alone. It's when we're alone that we become aware of our insecurities, our thoughts go haywire, we become vulnerable to temptations of all sorts, and we find out how undisciplined we really are. Plus being alone is so...unproductive.

As far as quiet goes, what's that?!

I look around the restaurant I'm in right now: Everybody is talking, to someone either in the restaurant or on the other end of a cell phone. I hear someone behind me talking in my direction; I turn around and she's talking through one of those headsets that are so popular now. Music is playing through loudspeakers -- too loudly. And I see something sad: A father sitting with his little boy, but instead of talking with him he's doing business on his cell phone. (Does he realize that little boy will not be a little boy forever?)

But I'm guilty, too. When I leave here and get in my car, I'll turn on my iPod and finish listening to the sermon I was listening to earlier. Being quiet is so...boring.

What's the answer? Move to some little town where there aren't so many people? I'll go crazy! Get rid of technology? That's unrealistic.

I think one answer Richard Foster provides in his book, Celebration of Discipline, is a good one: "Take advantage of the 'little solitudes' that fill our day." Here's what Foster advises:

"Consider the solitude of those early morning moments in bed before the family awakens. Think of the solitude of a morning cup of coffee before beginning the work of the day. There is the solitude of bumper-to-bumper traffic during the freeway rush hour. Slip outside just before bed and taste the silent night. These tiny snatches of time are often lost to us. What a pity! They can and should be redeemed. They are times for inner quiet, for reorienting our lives like a compass needle. They are little moments that help us to be genuinely present where we are."

That's valuable and it's something practical we can all do if we try. But we ought to do more than squeeze little moments of silence and solitude here and there into our day. I'm sure we ought to just sit still and be quiet for 30 minutes, or an hour or more, from time to time. (Good luck, those of you mothers with young kids who I know read my blog!)

As difficult as it is, I believe this: When I choose to be silent and alone with God I am living by faith. I am living out of my belief that it's not all up to me, that I don't have to be in control and productive all the time, that I'm not indispensable, that people really don't need to hear from me or talk to me right now. There are other people they can talk to, who can do the job as well as if not better than I can. What I need right now is to listen to God. And for that, I must be quiet and alone.

After that, I'll turn on my iPod or answer that phone call.

Have any ideas on how to practice the discipline of silence and solitude in these chaotic times?

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