I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good words. (The Rule of St. Benedict)
In the fall of 2004, I experienced a pivotal moment in my life as a believer. For whatever reason, God chose to use the Abbey of Gethsemani, and the Benedictine tradition in my life. It stared on a cold, sunny day in Trappist, KY.
It was in this place that I really began to learn about solitude and silence. However, once my retreat came to an end and I pulled off the monastery property, I was quickly reminded just how noisy the world is. With all of that noise, how could anyone ever think they could be quiet?
Benedictine monasteries all over the world stand as a great witness to the good of silence. Over the centuries they've both valued and practiced silence and solitude. They realized early on that these practices are needed in a person's life. In the silence, I'm left with my thoughts. In the quiet, I can better see the false self. I can hear the voice of the Spirit. I can pray.
Henri Nouwen wrote that experiences of solitude “show that we must be made aware of the call to let our false, compulsive self be transformed into the new self of Jesus Christ. It also shows that solitude is the furnace in which this transformation takes place.”1 I think he's right and I am convinced that these times of silence and solitude are essential to spiritual transformation.
Dallas Willard describes the practice of silence and solitude in this way:
In drawing aside for lengthy periods of time, we seek to rid ourselves of the “corrosion” of soul that accrues from constant interaction with others and the world around us. In this place of quiet communion, we discover again that we do have souls, that we indeed have inner beings to be nurtured. Then we begin to experience again the presence of God in the inner sanctuary, speaking to and interacting with us. We understand anew that God will not compete for our attention. We must arrange time for our communion with Him as we draw aside in solitude and silence.2
So very true.
It all started in the silence . . . this new journey that God called me to. Instead of being repelled by silence and solitude, I have found them to be marvelous, life-giving, life-changing gifts.
1 Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Way of the Heart. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco. 1981, p. 20.
2 The Pastors Guide to Effective Ministry, Beacon Hill Press, 2002.