Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Gifts of Silence

My word for 2014 was Silence. I practiced this mainly in daily centering prayer (which is basically time in stillness and silence dedicated to being totally present with God), but I practiced it in other ways as well. There are few things I can write that will convey my experience with Silence, because it was so much more difficult and beautiful and isolating and connecting than I could have possibly imagined. What I can do is share with you some of the gifts I discovered in Silence. These are not gifts to me only, but are gifts I've come to understand are waiting for anyone who is able to make space and time in their life to practice Silence regularly. I imagine each of us would experience these gifts in a different way and that these gifts I'm writing about now may not be the gifts others would recognize most from Silence. Yet I do believe that in a regular practice of silence, most of us would find these and other gifts in one way or another.

One gift is a growing realization of connection with others--past and present--who have made a practice of silence part of their lives. I see now that over the past few years, I had been striving to express all my thoughts and ideas and experiences and inner turmoil, but could not find sufficient words. Through my previous experience and resources, I tried to flesh it out, but always fell short. I felt increasingly frustrated by a complete lack of my own understanding of the faith crisis I was experiencing and the void in my vocabulary preventing me from explaining myself.

Becoming comfortable with silence allowed me to spend necessary time listening and finding others who were expressing what I was experiencing in words that meant all the things I'd been longing to explain. I’ve discovered in books and lectures the wisdom of a host of teachers and guides far ahead of me on the Spiritual journey and more in-tune with the process. I've also connected with a few beautiful souls whose journeys have allowed us to meet and support each other as we walk new paths.

Another gift is the acceptance that change in relationships is part of life and that growing apart isn't always someone's "fault." I’m coming to understand that some connections with others are for a season, when our paths intersect and are aligned in some way. When our paths diverge, the love and support shared in those close times still exists as part of the beauty of our lives, albeit in a different way than before. It’s still difficult for me to see this as a gift, because the pain of accepting change is hard, but I know that it is a gift. I know that the love I received while I was walking closer with some people was a balm to my heart when I was floundering, and I pray that the love I offered was the same for them. I pray that somehow our paths will bring us to a new closeness in the future, yet whether or not that happens, I hope with all my heart that they find just what and who they need in all the transitions and intersections that lie ahead.

One of the most profound gifts I found in Silence is summed up in this quote:
"With grace I am led to see that the only person I can judge, with God's help, is myself. I slowly come to understand that part of what is keeping my community from being all that it can be is my own lack of love, my own carelessness with God's love and the love and struggles of [others]. Seeing us in process and being able to value our incompleteness has been for me a great means of grace." - Macrina Wiederkehr
This reminder that we are all in process is a beautiful, beautiful gift. We are all incomplete. We are all at various stages on our journey. Of course I still experience my own ego and self-righteous judgment welling up when others react or respond in ways I disagree with or when they make choices I don't understand. Yet from my time in silence I sense that I am becoming more in-tune to the knowledge that many of my own actions, choices, and responses may bother or confound others. I can recognize this and soften my heart. I can accept that there is only so much change and progress humans can make in a single day or interaction, so I must be patient with myself and with others. I can work to set aside judgment, to be a peaceful and loving presence even in the midst of what causes me confusion, hurt, and anger.

Silence is a gift, which opens our hearts to many other gifts. I am so thankful for the gifts of Silence. I am so grateful for the transforming work continuing in my life, which has its roots in one word in 2014.

If we fill our lives with silence, then we live in hope, and Christ lives in us and gives our virtues much substance. Then, when the time comes, we confess Him openly before men, and our confession has much meaning because it is rooted in deep silence. It awakens the silence of Christ in the hearts of those who hear us, so that they themselves fall silent and begin to wonder and to listen. For they have begun to discover their true selves. If our life is poured out in useless words we will never hear anything in the depths of our hearts, where Christ lives and speaks in silence. - Thomas Merton