Spiritual Practice: Silence and Solitude
As you may know, my newest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, will be out in March through Harper Legend (pssst, you can actually pre-order it on Amazon). In anticipation of that, I invite you to join me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. Every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice, we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!
Review of the Examen: This discipline had a surprising effect on me. As I reviewed the places I’d seen God at the end of the day, I started noticing those places more during the day. How was it for you?
Silence and Solitude
This is one of my favorite spiritual practices. I used to take college students to a week-long camp on Catalina Island to practice different forms of prayer. The one they were most terrified of was 12-hours of silence. This was also the one they ended up loving and learning from the most.
It’s counter cultural to be silent and alone. People (including me) are so tied to our phones that we stay instantly connected, to technology and to each other. But getting away, and practicing silence is a powerful experience.
I love the analogy of a cloudy jar full of river water. If you let the jar sit for an hour, the sediment will settle to the bottom and the water will become clear. So it is with our mind, body and soul. If we allow ourselves to be quiet, even or an hour, we will be able to see things more clearly, hear better, and make better decisions about our lives.
The Quakers understand this. For one hour each week, traditional Quakers sit together in silence. They are listening for God to speak. If they hear God they ask themselves two questions: Is this word for me alone, or is it to share? I’ve been to a Quaker meeting where no one shared for the entire hour. Sitting together in silence is a powerful thing. Is there a Quaker meeting in your town? Maybe you could visit. I only went twice but they were very welcoming.
Silence and Solitude (being alone) is even harder. I’ve never met a generation so afraid of solitude. My granddaughter does her chores while FaceTimeing a friend. There is a lot of fear of being alone. One student, during our Day of Silence, hated the experience as being alone meant he had to face himself; he didn’t like what he saw, but eventually this lead to some deep healing.
So here is my challenge: Take some time away, by yourself and turn off your phone. Drive to somewhere beautiful, sit by a tree or look at a lake. Let your spirit settle and listen for God. You may not hear a voice, but God can speak in many ways. One student, who had just about finished the day, and was feeling like a failure for not hearing anything, went and stood out on some rocks that jutted out into the ocean. He threw up a challenge, “Okay God, if you’re gonna speak, I’m here.” Then two huge pelicans flew down and rested on either side of him. This was very unusual for the shy birds. As he stared in wonder at the birds, dolphins started doing aerial acrobatics in front of him. He was awed and humbled.
God will not always be so dramatic, but if we listen, he will speak to us in some way.
If silence is already a discipline of yours, try taking it to the next level. Book a room at a retreat center for a 24-hour silent retreat. I try to do this monthly and I can’t tell you how much I look forward to it. It’s like pushing the reset button on my psyche.
If 24 hours feels daunting, you can go on a guided retreat; most catholic retreat centers offer them. Or you can try breaking the time into hours; every hour try something different: Take a walk, sing, take a holy nap, read, draw, eat, journal, be creative.
I’d love to hear back about how your silence and solitude day goes. Or let me know in advance if you’re going to give it a try so I can pray for you. Have fun!