Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Supporting Silence

As you may know from one of the tabs at the top of my blog, my friend Michelle and I invested a lot of time over the past several months in our mutual exploration of Into the Silence, a book on prayer by Martin Laird, O.S.A.  Today, if all goes according to plan, Michelle and Marty are getting together in Pennsylvania while I am moping about in Ohio, wishing that I were sitting in a coffee shop with the two of them discussing the life of prayer.

As it happened, yesterday I was in fact sitting in a coffee shop with another friend, another spiritual director, and he had this to say: "These guys who write about prayer?  They all live in community. They make the rest of us, living with our own dysfunctional communities of family, friends, and colleagues, feel as if we need to head for the empty desert when, in fact, they themselves are surrounded by others who make their lives of prayer possible."

It was actually a much longer conversation, but you get the idea.

And so the question becomes, how do we build healthy communities in which we support one another in the solitude of prayer? 

I've said many times that my own church was simply too busy, too noisy, too active for me after Josh died. 

And how many times have folks said to me, "I couldn't be silent for eight minutes, let alone eight days!"

Most of us are not about to build a literal monastery, and we are unlikely, if we are in mainline Protestant churches or ordinary 21st century families, to find much of an expressed interest in silence, whether communal or solitary.

What do you think?  Do these questions exert any pull on you at all?  Do you have some ideas about it ~ about how to introduce, create, and foster the experience of silence with God?


  1. My initial comment is that life in religious community doesn't always support prayerful silence. Religious commmunities can be just as noisy, busy, active, and dysfunctional as churches, families, and the like. Going into the silence takes effort even when one lives with others who are formally committed to the same ideals, and community structures don't always provide the best support for this.

    Aside from the community aspect, I also know some Jesuits for whom silence is very difficult in any context - they may particularly struggle with fidgetiness and various distractions on retreat, but they also find it difficult to spiritually recollect themselves amidst the apostolic busyness of lives that have an intense outward focus.

    The grass is always greener, I suppose...

  2. Interesting. I've never been in religious community so can't comment on that. But I will be attending a first Centering Prayer session at our church tonight. This is the first time it has been offered and it is SO the right time for me.

  3. All. The. Time.

    Silence is the place where we begin to realize our true self...the places which need work...and the gifts which have gone unseen because of all the "noise" in our life.

    Lectio Divina may be a place to start with introducing silence. It would also provide a place perhaps to debrief the experience for those attending. I've done this a couple of times with more of a group spiritual direction approach.

    Maybe there is a prevailing, "is this right" way to be silent or "nothing what" which may take time to overcome.

    I always allow a bit of silence before I start the pastoral prayer...always.

    A group which meets specially for silent a the sanctuary.

    It does become holy ground when people gather in silence. After awhile there is a visible difference in the energy in the room during that time.

  4. My experience with going to the Monastery in Conyers, GA is that there is the opportunity for supported prayer and silence but many, many people there do not partake. (Including some monks.)

    One particularly wise monk has shown me how to imagine biting off a bit of silence to chew on for a few minutes at a time. All throughout my day.

    And it has changed my life.

    Centering Prayer is no longer a requirement of 30 minutes of uninterrupted silence to sit in God's presence, but something I can sink into immediately for 3 or 4 minutes....and do many times throughout the day. It becomes like chewing. Eating.

    Not yet like breathing.

    But I'm hoping.

  5. Thanks, everyone for the comments. Purple, I was hoping that you would weight in, since I know you are making this a focal point in your church, and MB, I'll be interested to hear how tonight went for you.

    Cindy, I love what you said about biting off a bit - which also makes sense in the context of Joe's comment. I think I have been relying too much on long periods of silence, which I don't always get to, instead of short moments of focus throughout the day. The Jesuits who have been my spir. dirs. are incredibly busy and responsible for many things, but their capacity for focus is amazing. It must be honed in a combination of long and yearly retreats and short bursts of attention over a lifetime of contemplation in action. I have a ways to go, I think!

  6. When I have led events at my church, I have a tendency to start in silence. Folks have told me it is what they love it.

  7. Have led a couple of Lectio Divina courses at BigPresbyChurch just because there was nothing contemplative offered (I'm a lay person). I used a dvd, Being Still. It has a wide range of folks talking about silence and prayer - frankly, I grit my teeth at some of them but it gave the participants permission to go along with trying Lectio Divina because a name they recognized was on the dvd. After the Lectio Divina portion, we'd sit in silence. Each week I lengthened the silence by 5-10 minutes. Then time to debrief the process. Also gave them scriptures for the week on their own from Thelma Hall's Too Deep for Words.

    Feedback was that folks were surprised and moved.