“Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature.” – Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
Those new to the discipline may be unaccustomed to how deafening silence can seem. In an age of constant electronic communication and the pervasive noise of urban life, silence is among the most elusive of the spiritual disciplines. Whether by overt demands for achievement at school or work, or by the subtle disapproval we perceive from a blank calendar space, we are trained by our culture and even our church activities to value doing over being. When the demands of modern life increasingly force the hours of the day into a binary of productive vs. non-productive time, we ask, who really has margin to simply pull away and be quiet? Baptized into the narrative that our worth is measured by our performance, our households and our offices are perpetually buzzing with multiple devices said to improve our productivity and make our lives easier. We find comfort in the constant noise they produce because they tell us we’re doing something. By contrast, the sound of silence creates a disconcerting feeling that nothing is happening.
Silence strips these false securities away. When all the noise outside has been quieted and the noise inside our hearts and heads is finally stilled, it is just the self before God. We find all kinds of reasons to avoid this either because we don’t want to confront the noise of our inner lives head on, or possibly because deep-down we can’t help but wonder if God is critically measuring our performance as well. We are afraid that he looks on us as we are in ourselves—even the tender unfinished parts of our hearts that we dare not let others see. It is hard to imagine that these parts will be looked on with gentleness and even love.
Silence is necessary to gain the trust that God longs to look on us not as we are in ourselves, but as we appear in Jesus. It is the place where God molds us in his image and frees us from the noise and compulsions that constantly seek to tie our value to external, demonstrable things. As you begin your practice today, consider the words from Nouwen above.
SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: Perseverance
It takes time and practice to lay down our defenses long enough to cultivate space for stillness. If you find yourself frustrated after a few days, don’t be discouraged. Remember, the disciplines are faithful practice, not performance. The outcome is not up to you.
With your timer set for 7 minutes, begin your time of silence. Ask God how he sees you. What does he see when he looks upon you? What is the “true nature” of yourself that you are too busy or too distracted to see?