Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Silence is Golden; Duct Tape is Silver

One of the spiritual disciplines, so I am told by those who are spiritually disciplined, is silence. So I will now produce profuse verbiage about silence. (Is there a contradiction contained therein?)

Last night our church held an Ash Wednesday service in the Apollo Theater. As my great luck would have it I showed up about 30 minutes early. Upon entering, I was handed a card informing us that we would engage in the discipline of silence and instructing us to be silent upon entering and throughout the service. Why can't I show up early and they announce we're having a donut eating contest, first come first served?

I embrace silence like I embrace a snot-nosed, whining, hacking 6 year old. So, our pastor hands me the card, I quickly read it, go into a full-blown panic attack, and tell him I just realized I didn't iron my socks and have to run back home and correct the wardrobe faux pas (all right--so I'm not particularly quick-thinking in a panic.) He puts his index finger to his lips and motions me upstairs to the seating. Each slow step up the stairs I inhale deeply and pray, "God, I receive your peace" and then I deeply exhale, praying, "God, get me out of this NOW or I swear I'll make a door where there is none!" After 37 steps of my own version of The Serenity Prayer I find a seat. Actually, there were ALL available due to my eagerness (now turned to dread) to get there. It's silent. No background music. No previews of coming movies. Just me and God. Where's a great distraction or an escaping addiction when you need one?

I crawl into my fetal position and attempt to pray, to quiet my mind. I attempt to calm the inner clamor. I realize how "full" I am--full of myself, full of avoidance, full of anxiety, full of my own agenda. So full that there is little room for God. So full of inner noise that it is no wonder I have difficulty hearing God.

As I sit there, my mouth motionless but my mind running at a breath-taking pace, I hear a few others entering. It sounds like a couple whispering to each other and then she starts giggling as they continue to violate the vow of silence. I become irritated at them and question their sincerity and want to go over and ask them if they mistakenly thought this was a Jimmy Buffett concert. It hit me--I'm also full of judgment. I had turned this opportunity to quiet myself and position myself to more readily encounter God into a scathing condemnation of my brother and sister who are probably uncomfortable with the silence, also, and just deal with it differently than me.

Finally, my wife, who had to work later than me, showed up and sat beside me. With intensity I whispered to her, "SAY SOMETHING!!! TALK TO ME!!!" She just patted my hand and handed me my "blankie," and bowed her head in tranquil silence. I resumed my fetal position, after her prompting me to get off the floor and into my seat.

Not a word was spoken the entire service. Some instrumental music, some inspirational words and periodic instructions on the screen. No dialogue. Quiet. Stillness. And there were moments where I experienced not only auditory silence, but soul silence.

Moments where it wasn't about ME. Moments where there was a sense of being drawn to God. A beckoning to empty myself of Preoccupation in order to be filled with Presence.

The service ended and I bolted. I ran home, grabbed the remote, and again became preoccupied. I filled myself and darted between American Idol, the Olympics, a Middle rerun. I filled myself and snacked, though not hungry. And I listened to "Margaritaville." At least I have the spiritual discernment and maturity to do so after, not during, an Ash Wednesday service. Jeez.

As you can see, my experience of silence is a two-edged sword. It makes me anxious. Anxious to avoid, anxious for more.

I'd like to hear how YOU do silence. What's your experience?
(I've tried to make it easier to comment and less hoops to jump through. Let me know. Thanks.)


ckd said...

Exceedingly bad at it, so I abuse my power and force people to join me!

Bongo said...

I sat in silence today in my home.. well at least I thought I did.. TV off.. ipod off..lights off.Then the car went by..the heat turned on..a kid running down the hall..wind chimes there silence? real silence?Is it silence in our enviroment..or silence inside that is needed? I'm gonna hope that God having the power he has..If he wishes to speak to me...can break through the UN quiet silence.

Steve said...

ckd, I bet you're real popular at a monastery weekend retreat :) Lemme know next time you go! I hear ya--it is very hard to be very quiet.

Bongo, yep. TV can be off, computer off, but the mind ON. I think the external silence doesn't create, but does facilitate, the internal stillness. To be still is so foreign to most of us, that when we attempt it initially, we meet with little success and therefore conclude it wasn't meant to be. I am told (and the little experience I have had through the years confirms) that the continued practice of silence begets the experience of silence. Let's hope so.

Blane's Girl said...

Silence is becoming a luxary...a time to rest and reset...a time when my world slows down just enough so that I can catch my breath. I wish that were always true. If only I could silence my own thoughts after I have achieved turning everything else off for a time. To shut my self up long enough internally...when successful is such a gift from Heaven!

Steve said...

Blane's girl, I hear your frustration--you wish it were always true. However, the fact that, for you, it sometimes is true, indicates it's attainable and that you're not immobilized, i.e. there is continued movement for you in your pursuit of stillness. Grace and peace on your journey.