March: Lent and Silence
Here’s a challenge: For the remaining weeks of Lent set aside half an hour each day to be completely silent.
Or, if you already have such quiet times, take it one step further: Band together with others in your Christian community to sit in silence in the presence of God.
What I’m really advocating is a “fast” from sound. Give up the chatter and distractions and strip right back; stop doing stuff, stop accessing entertainment, stop getting up and down and stop checking your smartphone.
Start tuning into the silence — even if it’s scary. Sit quietly with your emotions and see what happens. Note how comfortable or uncomfortable you get if nothing does.
Before beginning his public ministry Jesus withdrew into the desert for 40 days to fast and pray in solitude and silence. The time strengthened him to resist temptation and to discern how best to minister to those who would need him in times ahead.
Just as Jesus reflected and prepared for his work in the world, Lent is the season for Christians to reflect and prepare for the celebrations of Easter and all that it signifies. The season should be marked by prayer and repentance and through fasting from food and other extravagances.
A fast from sound fits well with this.
In Seeking Silence in a Noisy World: The Art of Mindful Solitude, Adam Ford says the poet George Mackay Brown would sit at home in the small fishing town of Stromness in the Orkney Islands, his house buffeted by North Atlantic gales, stroking his peat fire and “interrogating the silence”.
Unlike the poet, most of us don’t recognise the value of silence or bother to name it, Ford says, even though it is out of silence that peace, creativity, self-knowledge, inner strength and power emerge.
In Our Sound is Our Wound, Lucy Winkett argues that, as society’s noise levels increase, the Christian Church has a historic and increasingly urgent role to call people into silence in the presence of God.
The “still, small voice” of 1 Kings 19:12, through which God can be known, has more recently been translated as “the sound of sheer silence”, Winkett says.
“We still struggle to listen for that voice in an over-busy church in an over-busy world where those of us who lead services let our congregations down whenever we say ‘Let us keep silence’ and then keep talking.
“The churches must practise silence in order to create something for others to join.”
In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen is candid about how quiet aloneness with God can feel: “Solitude is not a private therapeutic place. Rather, it is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born … The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Silence and solitude: Time to surrender?