Intentional Silence in Our Noisy World Can Bring an Experience of God’s Peace
We live in a world that is quickly becoming more contentious every day. Many of us desperately need some peace in our lives and a touchstone of some sort to help us keep our bearings. Spiritual practices can help with this problem, and I have singled out one in particular that I think will be most helpful as we celebrate Christmas.
Before I talk about that spiritual practice, though, I think it will be helpful to first define peace in order to better understand the topic. To most of us, peace means an absence of conflict, of war, or even of tension in our lives. However, the Old Testament idea of peace includes a lot more than that.
The primary word for peace in the Old Testament is the Hebrew shalom. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, shalom carries connotations of “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace.” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary states that shalom conveys the notion of “wholeness, health, and completeness” in all the forms and variations of the word. It is not simply the absence of conflict, tension, war, etc., but a positive presence in one’s life. When you wish somebody peace, you wish them the resources needed (both physically and spiritually) to live a complete life free from need.
Given all that is packed into this biblical term for “peace,” I can think of many spiritual practices that would help us experience more shalom in our lives. However, for the purpose of this short piece, I will center on silence.
Noise Amidst Deafening “Silence”
With the current encouragement to stay at home and limit our social interactions with other people, it might seem odd to pick silence as a discipline to help bring peace. For many that I have talked to, the silence in their current living conditions seems deafening. They miss the interaction with friends, family, and coworkers that permeated their days pre-COVID.
However, I think silence is one thing that many of us desperately need in order to have more shalom in our lives. It only takes a cursory glance at most people’s Facebook feeds or the news today to see that there are a lot of different voices shouting for our attention and agreement. Both the political left and the right are possibly more combative than ever; the news about the pandemic and arguments over what should be done about it also takes up a large amount of bandwidth on social media as well as on the news. In the midst of the holiday season, preparations for Christmas can also bring a lot more stress in each of our lives.
Immersed in all this “noise,” it can be very easy to miss the peace that God’s presence can bring. Practicing some time of silence and stillness can help us regain what we have lost. I would like to suggest some steps that I have found helpful in the practice of this discipline.
1) Turn off your phone, computer, iPad, etc. These are frequently huge distractions for me. Every time the phone buzzes with a text message or a phone call, my natural response is to look at it to see if it is important. I imagine it is the same for you.
2) Have a pad of paper and a pen nearby. Most people find that their mind is constantly moving to tasks they need to do and a myriad of other things. This is a normal experience. Jot down things that you need to get to afterward and commit to letting them go until after your time of silence.
3) Give yourself some time and find a place. Set aside some time that you know you can have alone and find a place where you are not likely to be interrupted. The space can be anywhere that you do not find disquieting and that does not remind you of things you have to accomplish. The main idea is to spend some time consciously in God’s presence without all the distractions.
1) Spend some time quieting yourself. Make an effort to relax your muscles and let the static and tensions of the day die down. Ask God to help you put the distractions of the day out of your mind. Consciously choose to acknowledge God’s presence with you.
2) Ask the Holy Spirit to direct your thoughts and prayers. Spend some time praying for forgiveness, choosing to forgive those who have offended you, interceding for those who are poor or needy, making supplication for your own needs, giving thanks for all that God has done for you, etc.
3) Read a small portion of Scripture (perhaps a Psalm or one of the parables) and meditate on it. What is the message that it offers for you personally? Ask questions of the passage. Jot down insights or questions you have.
4) Spend some time in stillness afterward. Listen for any promptings from the Spirit, but primarily just allow the quiet and stillness to renew you.
5) Close with a prayer of thanks and gratitude for God’s presence in your life.
Finding Connection with God
To be sure, this is not going to be an easy practice for many of us. We are too used to having information of some type constantly in front of us or our cell phones in our hands to readily see whatever has been happening in the last five minutes. However, these voices can easily drown out the simple and quiet voice of God speaking to each of us. As with any of the spiritual disciplines, this practice takes some practice to ingrain in our lives. However, it will help us gain some peace and a deeper sense of connection with God.
If you would like to read a little more about the practice of silence (and stillness), I would recommend RZIM’s web page How to Practice the Spiritual Discipline of Silence, Ruth Haley Barton’s book Invitation to Solitude and Silence, and Father John Breck’s article “On Silence and Stillness” (available on the Orthodox Church in America’s web site). All of these have influenced this article to some degree. There are numerous other websites and books that have been written on this subject, but I have found these three to be very helpful.
I wish you all grace and peace.