I have been thinking a lot about silence during these days of Lent, and soberly realizing how little I have of it.
It’s not that my nuns and friends are particularly noisy or that I live in the midst of a bustling metropolis. It’s that I am surrounded by — and surround myself with — stuff, necessary stuff most of the time, but stuff nonetheless. Maybe it’s the pile of books that I am reading or mean to read, or the various gadgets that help me do my ministry, or the every handy smartphone with endless opportunities to engage stuff, or the many thoughts and projects on my plate. These and so many other things fill not only my day but my mind and heart, encroaching on that space of silence, of sheer nothingness, of God alone.
You might think (as many people do) that we Catholic sisters and nuns live a quiet, docile life of serenity in ceaseless communion with God and our neighbors. Not so. Even my friends who are contemplative nuns and hermits must contend with the noise of everyday life. Being a sister or nun does not exempt one from life (thank God for that!) or from having to develop a personal and communal sense of silence.
si·lence (slns) n.
1. The condition or quality of being or keeping still and silent.
2. The absence of sound; stillness.
3. A period of time without speech or noise.
A wise nun got after me the other day for placing a bit too much emphasis on the “action” part of being a “contemplative in action”. She was right. Too often we can get caught up in the stuff of everyday life — good stuff like ministry, outreach, caring for others, work responsibilities, recreation — and “feel bad” for taking time for just being still, being alone with ourselves. For me that also means being in a space of holy emptiness to receive God more fully.
I know this sounds crazy, but I am going to set an alarm on my handy smartphone app to call myself to stop, be still, and welcome the flood of nothing!
marla March 22, 2011 at 11:11 am
not crazy at all. when we have many obligations we must sometimes schedule in what we tend to think of as normal, or at least easily acquired. i see it all the time, even on tv. the great supernanny has hard working moms and dads schedule daily time to be with their kids. someone on npr last week said many couples these days have to schedule time to be intimate–and they need to do so to keep their marriages alive and growing. scheduling silence isn’t crazy at all. part of your fuel for your ministry comes from silence and listening for god. scheduling time to listen to he who is is a very smart thing.
fill your own bucket. you know how it goes: no matter what you are doing, taking care of kids or running a huge ministry, you can’t give anything you don’t have, and if you don’t fill your own bucket you have nothing to give anyone else.
you give so profoundly, jules, you and max both, that you shouldn’t even entertain a hint of guilt (that feeling bad above) at trying to turn on the receiver and get some input from the one who sustains you. i wish you luck in learning how to take a break, and i wish you fulfillment and success in achieving silence in which to get fuel for your next lake of ministry.
Another Sister Julie, CSSF March 22, 2011 at 11:46 am
Oh, whoever said, “Silence is Golden,” wasn’t kidding! Even prayer is affected by noise. One thing that really kills prayer time for me is a bombardment of words, words, WORDS! We hardly have time to hear God’s response. I mean, isn’t prayer supposed to be a conversation??? My favorite times are when we are all praying quietly in Chapel for anticipating the next event. It’s like a mini-Advent, all of us united in silent prayer, waiting.
Barbara March 22, 2011 at 12:23 pm
We live in a noisy world, no doubt about it, especially with all those shouting nuns! A cloister is no guarantee of quiet, nor is a desert. We always take ourselves with us where ever we go. Somehow, it’s within myself that I need to be still in spite of all the turmoil around me. What is more disquieting – my neighbours loud music, or my angry desire to smash his boom box? Which one do I have control over? Now, where did I put the phone number to enforce the City’s noise bylaw????
Sister Julie March 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm
LOL Barbara! [using my indoor voice]
Marg March 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm
As the hymn says, “I will come to you in the silence….Be still and know I am here.” I don’t need a “silent” place. I’m perfectly happy to listen when I’m sitting by the ocean, listening to birds in the park, or just sitting on the back porch in the summer, watching the sunset. But finding that stillness, or rather, giving myself permission not to be busy and trying to empty my mind of the busyness is so very hard. It takes work and discipline. Would that I could do it when lying awake at 3 or 4 in the morning!
Sister Julie March 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm
That’s a good point — silence need not be the absence of sound but more of that stillness.
Bob March 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm
You just need to look for the silence between all of the noise. It is there,just sit and listen for the silence
Marsha West March 22, 2011 at 9:41 pm
Love this, Bob! And you are absolutely right – the silence is there if we listen for it.
cate March 22, 2011 at 5:43 pm
I can so relate to my tendancy to let go of my need for contemplation into my call for action … it is such an important balance! And, my action can be completely contemplative IF I am living out the proper balance! (Of course, I never was much of a balance beam gymnast ~ give me the trampoline instead LOL) Yes … I too have set my timer to remind myself to take time out, to claim a sacred pause or a deepened breath. I do what I need to do to get back on track before my activity begins to eat me right up! One of the greatest blessings I give myself is a week or two in a hermitage each year ~ a wonderful block of time in solitude! There is nothing like a week of vacation with God
Jeanin March 22, 2011 at 7:09 pm
Sister, this is a great reflection. I am always looking for ways to be more silent during my day and I too have found that I have to schedule it. We must take time to go into our inner cave and commune with God. I think it helps us do all the other “stuff” better.
KCMayrie March 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm
Well said SJ! I’ve recently discovered the wonders of taking time to listen to God. I’m finding that I spend more and more time just sitting and being present. Noise off. Phone off. Computer off. TV off. Just me and God, in the stillness…in the quiet places…He is there…waiting for me!
Sometimes, it’s hard to do…to turn off the noise, but it is a necessity at time to help us…me….to reconnect to God and the world around me.
Sue March 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm
We need those moments of pause during our hectic days. Remember when Catholic churches pealed the Angelus bell three times a day to remind the faithful to stop and pray? A cell phone app sending a reminder is just a modern adaptation.