Just when you thought Friday couldn’t get any better, Kendall Laughlin is on the blog! I have known Kendall & his wife Shelly since college. He is equal parts brilliant and genius. I always enjoy his website, The Weathervane , and you should check it out when you are done here. Kendall decided to tackle silence for An Uncomfortable January. Better him than me…enjoy!
An Uncomfortable Silence
And there was silence in heaven for half an hour.
Chapter 8, Verse 1
In my experience in world travel, there are some nations and cultures that, once traveled to, they never quite leave a person. One experience that has never quite left me is my first trip to India.
It has been well said that India is an “assault on the senses.” You see more people, colors, and animals at once than you thought possible. You smell more spice, more sickness, and more sweat than you can imagine. And you hear. You hear so much! My trip there was one of my favorite life experiences.
One thing I remember the most after my return to the United States from India was the quiet. The silence of no cows, no traffic, no calls to prayer was deafening. I soon realized, however, that my own nation has a different ‘noise.’ It’s not the noise of screaming rickshaw drivers or booming megacities. It’s the noise of marketers, of talking heads, twitter tweets, facebook posts, mindless errands….
The business of America may in fact be noisier than the clatter of India. In the midst of our cultural noise, I feel one of the most countercultural activities of today’s modern world is silence.
At the beginning of each year, I endeavor to spend a day in silence. These silent retreats (modeled after the example of Trappist monks) allow me the space to prepare mentally for the coming year and ‘detox’ emotionally from the past season.
There are three lessons I have learned about silence during these times:
•Silence is Uncomfortable – Even though I have practiced silence as a discipline for some time now, it always makes me uncomfortable. The lack of media consumption and social conversation forces me to examine my own thoughts. In our culture, we constantly multi-task, so part of the challenge of silence is the singular focus it presents. While silent, we focus on one thing. Physical sensations like the licks of flames in a campfire, the bitter heat of coffee, the tools I use to work on some project soon give way to other realizations: the still presence of God, the lingering unforgiveness of some relationship, dreams and hopes for the future.
•Silence is Peaceful – Eventually the awkwardness of silence gives way to a dull but sharpening peace. It’s the kind of peace that passes understanding. When we are silence in the presence of the Almighty, our need to ascertain the outcome of every life situation diminishes.Another peace we experience is the peace of being ourselves. Our words create worlds, and many times we paint a picture of a world around us that is unrealistic. In silence, we cannot defend ourselves, promote ourselves, or diminish ourselves. We can only be our self.There is a healing power that occurs we when are silent. We learn how to love ourselves again. We learn that we are loved by God, not because of what we do but because of who we are.
•Silence is Powerful – In the darkest time of recent years I went on a silent retreat. I was looking for answers – Why? How? What now?I found no answers in the midst of that silent night. Instead, I found an encounter. Sometimes words fail and the silent offering of our own presence can attract the presence of God more than we thought imaginable.
To have nothing to do but abandon yourself to God… to have silence and solitude… are the supreme luxuries of life
– Thomas Merton –
Will you embrace the power of silence as we move into 2013? In what ways will you reflect and re-envision yourself for next year?