Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Sounds of Silence

a profound silence descends on the desert as the sun sets

When I was a parish priest, from time to time I would try to incorporate periods of reflective silence into the Sunday Service. After hearing a scripture lesson or after the sermon, I would invite the congregation to simply sit in silence and let the words they just heard "sink in." 

My attempts at including periods of silence were generally unsuccessful.

After about one minute of sitting in silence,  the coughing began, then came the fidgeting in the pews. After two minutes, people began to look at their watches.   The experience convinced me that, in our frenetic,  fast-moving culture,  most people have a real hard time sitting in silence.

I first encountered what it meant to be "profoundly silent" last year when I first moved out into the desert. 

I am the kind of person who always had to be doing something, or saying something, or listening to something.  I was used to waking up and turning on the TV. Then I'd read the paper and answer emails. All day long I'd be busy filling up the time with words and non-stop activity.

I'd say my prayers but, my prayers, like the rest of my life, were always filled with sounds and words. 

When I moved out here, it all changed.

When evening falls,  the desert doesn't simply become quiet, it becomes silent - profoundly silent. The first time I encountered this kind of silence, I was actually taken back by it - maybe even fearful of it because the silence was so pronounced. In fact the silence was "loud." 

Now, over the months since I have lived here, I have come to welcome and even relish those sounds of silence because, in the silence,  I can hear a voice that is not my own, and experience a power that is beyond me.

I have reflected a good deal about why people resist silence, and I have concluded that it is a "control" issue.  When I use my words and when I fill the time with my activity, I feel somehow that "I" am in control. I control what I want to hear by turning on the TV, or reading the paper,  or browsing the internet. I control everything that happens in every moment of my life when I busy myself all day long with my constant activity. 

When I pray, I also feel like I am in control if I can fill the time with my words. After all, I am the one doing all the talking and calling all the shots. So, there really isn't a lot of room for God to interfere - much safer and more comfortable that way. 

I went to my Yoga class last evening, and  my teacher said something that really struck me. He noticed that I was holding my breath when I got into a position. So, he stood behind me and said, "Let it go, surrender, breath into the position." 

I think that this is exactly what I need to do more and more when I encounter the silence. Every time I sit in the sounds of silence, I am given an opportunity to let go of my need to control. By breathing into the silence, and surrendering to it, I let go of my ego and melt  into a wild, passionate, mysterious presence. I melt into a power that cannot be contained.

The silence is so very loud - so filled with Holy Presence.

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