Friday, December 14, 2012

Listening in Silence

Dear Theophilus,

The Advent season calls us to stop and take the time to reflect on the Saviour’s coming at Christmas. Finding a moment or two of silence in December to contemplate on this great mystery seems to be almost mission impossible. With the constant bombardment of holiday music (not always Christmas music) over store sound systems, the continual shill of television commercials telling us what we need to find under the tree on Christmas morning, along with the incessant chatter of children hyped up on Christmas treats and the promise of all their little dreams being fulfilled – it really is a wonder that we are able to keep our thoughts straight – let alone our sanity intact. On top of all the seasonal noise is the constant hum that the modern world gives us via our smart phones, iPods, the internet, cable TV, satellite radio … the list of distractions seems endless. But to truly appreciate the Advent season and our relationship with God, we need to seek out silence, because it is only in silence that we can truly listen to the word of God speaking in our hearts.

So often we say that we can’t hear God in our lives, but do we know where to listen for Him? Are we allowing God to speak to us in the way He wants to be heard? How do we know how God wants to speak to us? When we turn to the Bible, we can easily see that God speaks to us in the simplicity of silence.

When God spoke to Abram (and later as Abraham), calling him to leave his home for the Promised Land or to sacrifice his son, Abraham was usually alone or with only his son (cf.: Gen 12 and Gen 22). Whenever God wanted to speak with Moses, Moses would leave the Israelite camp to climb, alone and in silence, up Mount Sinai (cf.: Ex 19). When the Lord called to Samuel, he was lying quietly in the Temple (cf.:1 Sam 3).

The same kind of examples can also be found throughout the New Testament as well. When the angel of the Lord told Zechariah that Elizabeth was expecting a son, it was in the silence of the Holy of Holies, and when Zechariah wouldn’t believe the angel, he was struck mute until John the Baptist was born. (cf.: Lk 1:5-20). Whenever Jesus wanted to talk to his heavenly Father, he always sought him out in silence solitude, whether it was the 40 days in the desert to start his ministry (cf.: Mt 4); when the crowds followed him after his miracles, he would withdraw to deserted places to pray. (Lk 5:16); and on his final earthly evening, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus left his disciples to go a few paces further to pray in silence. (cf.: Mt. 26:36-46, Lk 22:39-46). Even the final book of the Bible, the Revelation to St. John, was revealed when the evangelist found himself secluded on the Island of Patmos. (Rev 1:9)

How can we find silence amongst all of the distractions that our busy world throws at us? Silence isn’t to be found in today’s world, rather we need to create it. It should come as no coincidence then, that discipline and disciple are derived from the same root word. We need to discipline ourselves to be able to create more silence in our lives.

In his book Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly challenges us to spend at least 10 minutes a day in silent conversation with God. Ideally, he tells us, we should try to do this in a church – preferably our own parish. As churches are designed for contemplative prayer and Eucharistic adoration, they will provide the optimal surroundings for a silent 10 minutes with the Lord. Personally, I started following Kelly’s advice this week, spending 10 silent minutes in the school chapel before the start of the day. Although I find it hard to settle my mind, I find it reassuring to put my troubles before God, asking his guidance in how to best make my way through the coming day.

Matthew Kelly realizes that spending 10 minutes in a silent church every day isn’t always possible. We need to carve this silence out at other times and in other places. Some suggestions might be to try waking up 10 minutes earlier to sit quietly in your favourite chair, leaving your mp3 at home when you go for your daily run or take 10 minutes of silent contemplation at your desk before heading to the staff room for lunch.

Like I said, I’ve been finding it hard to get my mind to settle these first few days, but I’m also finding that my focus is getting better. It’s funny, but it’s the concerns that my mind wanders to that I find I need to place before the Lord, and by the end of the 10 minutes, I find I’ve got a plan on how to deal with them that not only solves my trivial problems, but also allows me to live God’s will. When you find you mind wandering, offer these distractions to God, allowing Him to guide your actions to do His will.

If you stick with it, I think that, like me, you will be pleasantly surprised to find how 10 minutes a day of listening to God in the silence, what H whispers to you can bring hours of peace to your life.

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