Well, for most of us the treadmill you’ve been on for decades has abruptly stopped. What has happened is inexplicably incredible and profound. It’s arguably the greatest gift God could have ever given our generation. Not the deaths, not the COVID-19 virus, but The Great Stoppage. What the pandemic has given us is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stop, to rest, to cease our manic production and consumption, to see and reflect upon ourselves, our faith, and our country in an honest light. It is in a word, Sabbath.
Three of the core foundations of Sabbath are that of silence, solitude, and stillness. At no other time, ever in our lives, have we received the opportunity to see what would happen if the world simply stopped. Here it is, your opportunity to experience silence, solitude, and stillness as never before. This is your chance to define a new normal, a rare and truly sacred opportunity.
Below are some observations on silence, solitude, and stillness and possible applications you may wish to incorporate into your spiritual practices and regimens.
Jesus and Silence, Solitude, and Stillness
The importance of silence, solitude, and stillness in the life of Jesus and his disciples is undeniable. Jesus made a habit of withdrawing, sometimes abruptly, from the crowds and his ministry of doing his Father’s will to “the hills” or a “lonely place” or “the wilderness” or a “high mountain” or to the “seashore” or to the Garden of Gethsemane. To be more like Jesus we must likewise find times of silence, solitude and stillness.
The spiritual disciplines of silence, solitude, stillness are disciplines of abstinence. In the disciplines of abstinence, we abstain in some form and for some time from what we generally regard as normal desires.
And, as with all spiritual disciplines, the disciplines of silence, solitude, and stillness are for the ultimate goal of godliness, Christ-likeness, and oneness with God.
For the purpose of spiritual disciplines we define silence, solitude, and stillness as follows:
Silence: To abstain from speaking. To listen. To be quiet.
Solitude: To be alone. To turn away from human interaction and external stimuli.
Stillness: To stop, cease, desist. To not move. To rest. To stay fixated. To wait. To be at peace.
Experiencing God in Silence
“In silence and quietness the devout soul makes progress and learns the hidden mysteries of the Scriptures” – Thomas a Kempis.
“All writers on the spiritual life uniformly recommend, nay, command under penalty of total failure, the practice of silence” – The Catholic Encyclopedia
“In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah30:15)
We are in a culture that conditions us to be comfortable with noise and crowds and uneasy with silence. We have an addiction to noise. Silence is rare in our society as our lives are always filled with background noise, without which we tend to fear nothing is happening. What does it say about our souls if we have to have noise to feel as if something is happening around us?
All in all no spiritual discipline is more universally accepted as necessary than the practice of silence. In silence we close our soul off from the sounds of words, music, and noise. Silence allows us to experience life-transforming concentration on God.
The reason we seek silence is the same reason Jesus did – to be able to listen and hear what God is saying to us. Nothing like silence strips us naked and allows us to see reality through God’s eyes.
Silence is possible without solitude but very few of us can be silent in the presence of others, which speaks to the necessity of pairing silence with solitude. Richard Foster notes that “Without silence there is no solitude”
Experiencing God in Solitude
“But when you pray, go into your closet and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” (Matthew 6:6)
"Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt in solitude, where we are least alone." - Lord Byron
In the spiritual discipline of solitude we purposefully abstain from interaction with other human beings and all that comes with interaction with others. We intentionally isolate ourselves away from the experience of being with others by going to our prayer closet, the ocean, the wilderness, the desert, or the mountain to experience aloneness with God.
Solitude also is freeing. The normal course of daily human interactions locks us into patterns of thought and action that work against experiencing God, and only solitude can free us from the ingrained patterns that hinder our connection with God. In solitude we can better see the things that trap, worry, and oppress us and we are free to return to society as free persons.
It has been said that no great work in literature or in science was ever wrought by a man who did not love solitude. Anyone who has to create music, art, lessons, sermons, presentations, or reports knows it can’t be done with excellence without some form of extended and uninterrupted solitude.
Spiritual people from every generation are agreed it is a fundamental principal of religion that no large measure of spiritual growth was ever attained by one who did not take sufficient time to be alone with God.
Experiencing God in Stillness
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7). Scripture implies that stillness involves waiting and that blessings follow those who wait on God. As we don’t initiate action in our own strength and timing, we experience the blessings of God’s good and perfect and pleasing will and timing.
“Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased.” (Mark 4:39). Jesus connects stillness with peace. When we experience extended periods of stillness with God, our RPM’s slow down, our inner turmoil is quietened, and a deep peace that passes understanding permeates our body, mind and soul.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations and in all the earth.” (Psalm 46:10). The Psalmist declares that we come to know God and His ways in stillness and that He is glorified and worship is experienced through God-focused stillness.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23: 2-3) Scripture associates stillness with rest and healing. When we are sick the doctor usually prescribes that we be still through bed rest. When we suffer broken bones they are placed in a cast or sling to immobilize the bones. Why? Because stillness promotes healing. When we are still before God we experience life-giving healing and wholeness that only He can provide.
“Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes.” (1 Samuel 12:16). In stillness we slow down enough to notice where God is obviously at work in our lives, the lives of others, and in the world.
It was while Samuel was lying still in the Temple (1 Samuel 3:3-4) that God spoke to him. Likewise it is in the midst of stillness that we hear God’s voice speaking to us and respond to His call upon our lives.
Silence, Stillness, and Solitude Summarized
Spiritual writers and leaders, ancient and modern, are unanimous in agreeing that the disciplines of silence, solitude, and stillness lead to a love of God, a love of self, and a love of others. More than any previous generation in history, we must discipline ourselves to experience silence, solitude, and stillness.
Think of silence, solitude, and stillness as complimentary as well as catalytic. They are frequently found together because silence, solitude, and stillness go hand in hand, each making the other complete. Think of them as a three stranded rope, when structured together are stronger than the sum of its parts.
In summary, we practice the disciplines of silence, solitude, and stillness so that we may:
- Seek the will of God as Jesus did before choosing his disciples in Luke 6:12-13.
- Open our minds to see God’s ways as when Gabriel responded to Zechariah’s unbelief with an enforced silence in Luke 1:20.
- Quieten the noise so we can clearly hear God’s voice as Samuel did.
- Regain strength and receive power. After expending themselves physically and spiritually Jesus told His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31)
- Produce the fruits of the spirit in our daily lives.
- Increase our sensitivity and compassion for others, and experience a new responsiveness to their hurts and needs.
- Learn to rely more on God’s control in matters where we typically feel compelled to speak, act, or exert control.
- Participate without interruption in other spiritual disciplines, such as, to read scripture and sacred writings, meditate, pray, journal, worship, and fast.
- Experience union, communion, and oneness with God.
If you have experienced genuine silence, solitude, and stillness then you resonate with the words of Jonathan Edwards who found such spiritual disciplines “a delight and a foundation of refreshment, joy, and transformation.”
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