Sunday, March 26, 2017

40 Days Journal: Strength & Silence

One of the greatest spiritual strengths is silence.

What I discovered is that it is much easier to turn off the external noise (TV, radio) than to quiet the internal noise. It is as if I have more internal monologues than those stream-of-conscious ones in James Joyce's Ulysses. Whenever I attempt to quiet my interior, thoughts interrupt more than my children do whenever I'm on the phone. It's a real struggle to tune these thoughts out so that I can focus on God through centering or contemplative prayer. Thomas Keating wrote, "The root of prayer is interior silence." I strive for that kind of silence within me without all the competing thoughts that try to draw me away from communion with my Creator.

My first instinct whenever I get into my car to go somewhere is to turn on the radio and listen to either NPR or music. Yet I was called to silence throughout my day. This is a struggle because I love listening to music or podcasts and it's easy for me to justify listening when it's worship music or a Christian podcast or sermon. But even those can be a distraction from God and my being present to God. The forty days are a way of stripping bare all that's truly unnecessary so that I can not only become one who is spiritually focused in my attention but also in my intention. Why am I doing what I do? It is to create more God-centered time throughout my days so that I am loving and listening to Him more attentively and become more attuned to hearing Him in the silence.


Because, as Thomas Merton wrote, "The speech of God is silence. His word is solitude." I am striving to lead that kind of daily life in the best way that I can in a life that requires me to be a husband, father, coworker, friend and neighbor. The more time I spend in silence with God, the more intimacy I will have with Him. Intimacy with God will inevitably lead to intimacy with others, as one cannot love God without loving people. This is a place that needs much growth in my own life as I prefer to be alone and left alone. Certainly one way for me to do this is in praying for others every day because the more you pray for someone the more that you love them. And I am finding this to be true because I feel a deep sense of gratitude and affection for those I pray for on a daily basis. As I am praying, God sometimes has me praying for a specific person or a specific need. Or He will give me words to pray for them and over them: joy, peace, healing.

Yet to deepen my love for God and man, I must remove myself from the chaotic hurricane of noise that is both outside and inside of me. "Be silent before the Lord God!" Zephaniah 1:7 tells me.

The Greeks have a word kalchaino. It means "to search for the purple fish." These purple fish were shellfish that were highly prized for their rich purple dye used by the Greeks. Divers went to the bottom of the sea to try to find these elusive fish. Later, the Greeks would use this term kalchaino to mean plumbing the depths of oneself. Surely that is what Christ did in the wilderness and what I, too, will do over these forty days. But what will come from such depths?

"Solitude, silence and prayer," Henri Nouwen wrote, "are often the best ways of self-knowledge."  I, like many, do the best to distract myself from such knowledge because I know that when God shows me things about my life, He does so for me to work to change them, to emulate Christ more in my daily life. Self-knowledge is to confront those things about myself that most keep me from a more spiritually mature relationship to God and in God. It is to know myself so that I can go beyond myself in God, in Christ, through the help of the Holy Spirit that I might honor and glorify God in all that I say and do. That there is a congruence between what I proclaim to believe and what I am actually doing day after day after day.

How difficult will this be?

Scripture tells us that Christ was tempted for forty days, though we only know three of the temptations. As Mark 1:12-13 says, "The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan, And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him." God leads us to the wilderness not for desertion of us but for the formation of us. We are drawn there to be away from the distractions that so often keep us from truly being aware and present to God, of facing the very temptations that keep us distracted and busy and from being who God created us to be and for the purposes He created us for.

Like Christ in the desert, what demons will I encounter?

My selfishness?
My loneliness?
My fears?
My lust?
My jealousies?
My pettiness?
My insecurities?

Part of centering prayer is identifying with Christ during his temptations in the desert. Only a few days in and the desire wells up in me to break from the path I was led to but the desert is always the pathway to divine union. He draws us out to draw us in.

Once there, in the wilderness, I am confronted with my doubts, confusion and anxiety. Do I really want to plumb the depths of myself with all of my weaknesses, sinfulness, and brokenness? Only by the divine grace of God. "Even in the depths of hell, You are there." That is not hell, as only the absence of God is truly hell.

This is all about self-surrender and trust. It is moving past the ego. It's moving past the self to the sacrament (silence, stillness and solitude).  Yet, when I begin each day, I find that the challenge is harder, not easier. There is more restlessness. Perhaps that is why one of the greatest spiritual actions is stillness.  "Be still, and know that I am God." I am so often busy to avoid that very connection, that communion with Him because, deep down, I know that God is always present where suffering and love meet. Like many, I avoid suffering. That is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Simone Weil wrote, "Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude." The question is not, "Can I do this?" but "Am I willing to do this?"

I know that coming into any contact with the Creator means change. One cannot come away the same. "The mystery of God's grace," Nouwen writes, "is that He often changes us in ways that we were not planning on and that sometimes we do not have eyes to see or ears to hear these changes in ourselves."

Lord, give me the fortitude for formation, no matter how difficult or painful. May the furnace burn away the dross of my hatred for anyone, my strong desire for the approval of others, for worshiping the very idols I have created for myself (comfort, security, a desperate longing to be understood and accepted). May I, with each new day, be drawn to where Your heart is and to see You in all things and in all people.

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