We are constantly surrounded by a myriad of sounds. They surround us. Music, ads, and jingles play in every public sphere of our lives, from waiting rooms to elevators, from walking down the street to waiting on the phone. Then, of course, there is the sounds that we cultivate ourselves. We return home and instantly turn on the television. Early morning commutes occur in the presence of the radio, or the music blasting from our headphones. More and more, with every passing year, decade, and generations, sound becomes unavoidable, so unavoidable that the biblical call of 'for you, O God, my soul in silence waits'
We simply do not know how to remain silent.
We have grown accustomed to the noises of the background, noises that contain no importance, claim no focus, yet exists for the sole purpose of taking up acoustic space. We find comfort in background noise. Yet these noises do nothing but continually call our attention and focus away from our internal connection to God. There is always something else that we are called to focus on. Thus our attention and focus constantly shifts and continually moves. Here there can be no restedness, no peace, no rootedenss.
The early church had a saying 'Cultivate silence and it will teach you everything.' A single-hearted focus on God and His kingdom can only occur as we enter into the process of quieting ourselves before His presence. As long as the direction of our soul's activity and focus is upon the frantic otherness of the life around us we will never be able to catch even the smallest glimpse of the presence of God in our life.
Our reluctance to remain steadfast in prayer; our inability to discern God's own voice apart from the voices of the world, our feeling of skimming over the deep things of faith are all rooted in our inability to remain silent. Yet silence is that to which we are continually called. The prophet Isaiah beckons us with the words 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. (Isaiah 30:15). In fact, the entire earth is called to 'keep silence' before The Lord in his holy temple (Habakuk 2:20). We cut ourselves off from a tremendous source of spiritual livelihood when we fail to adequately cultivate silence as a regular discipline of the life of faith.
Silence involves the closing off of ourselves to that which whirls around us. Noise, music, words of any kind are laid aside so that we can enter into the place of deep listening. We still the inner chatter. We open ourselves to God's presence and attempt, as best we can, to remain attentive to His words. Silence is a passive place. It is not defined by our activity or our striving. In silence we wait. We listen. We abide. We long for God to speak, to act, to move, and only then do we respond to the rhythms of God.
Dietrich Bonehoffer writes: "Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God. We are silent before hearing the Word because our thoughts are already directed to the Word, as a child is quiet when he enters his Father's room. We are silent after hearing the Word because the word is still speaking and dwelling within us. . . . .Real silence, real stillness, really holding one's tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness. (Life together, page 79).
Cultivating silence can be as simple as finding 5 minutes during the day to sit it quietness and turn our attention to our Lord. Find a quiet place where you can remain undisturbed. To the best of your ability, remove all distractions of sight and sound from the atmosphere. Simply sit, with no agenda, with no notions of what will occur. Simply sit in an attitude of openness. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to judge, slow to define. Simply ask God to be fill the quiet space, and expect that in God's own way, God will do so. After the 5 minutes are completed, then rise and continue on in the day, yet attempt to keep the inner quietness, cultivated in the space of external quietness, with you. Over time, this will become increasingly easier and a source of constant nourishment and power for your Christian journey.