I just returned from 48 hours of almost complete silence and solitude in southern Michigan at a place called the Hermitage. Wow....
I have been having some re-entry issues, culture shock if you will. Meals in silence to meals with four children under 9 talking constantly and continually. Being alone all day in the woods in a cabin with no electricity or plumbing, with no agenda other than resting and reading and praying; to 10 voice mails; 75 emails a new cell phone to program, and grocery shopping at Giant Eagle.
Today my head is slowly lifting from the haze of noise that is all around me.
Have you ever eaten a meal with others in complete silence? It takes some getting used to. I realized that even in actual silence there is still noise in my head, thoughts racing at the speed of light. What is that guy thinking about? Is he thinking about me? I wonder if knows that I am thinking about him? I wonder what her story is? She looks like Maryl Streep. Is she looking at me? I wonder what she thinks about this buritto? Speaking of burittos these are really good. Then when your conscious mind seems to run out of random musings and questions there is this moment where you it becomes still and quiet. A place that is really hard to be in. It is a distant land, a far off country, uncharted waters, a place unfamiliar to me and most of us. In that moment you have to choose to stay or choose to go. It is a place that is uncomfortable and frightening and relaxing and free all at the same time.
We have so much clutter and noise in our lives, both literal noise and internal noise that make us deaf to our own heartbeat and most importantly the voice of God. The brothers at the Taize monastery in France say, maybe we sometimes avoid silence, preferring whatever noise, words or distraction, because inner peace is a risky thing: it makes us empty and poor, disintegrates bitterness and leads us to the gift of ourselves. Silent and poor, our hearts are overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, filled with an unconditional love.
Silence in that regard is dangerous practice. If we are still enough to actually listen then we might hear and if we hear we might actually follow and obey the path God has for us. We might discover something about ourselves that has been hidden within us for years. We may hear the voice of God calling us OUT or IN to someplace we have been avoiding. Silence is also a subversive practice. If we just STOP for long enough we might realize that our value and our worth is not tied up in what we do or produce or how much we own or what we got done today or last year. It is a willful act that subverts the values of activity, busyness, consumption, competition, production and achievement that drive like slave masters.
Maybe the reason that God calls, allures and leads his people(Moses, Elijah, Jesus, John, Paul, Hosea) into the dessert and the wilderness is because it is there where they will be still long enough to hear his voice. If they hear his voice they might actually follow Him. It is the unlikely place of restoration, redemption, reconciliation and revolution. In the dessert they (we) are forced to fully depend on him because they (we) are desperate. Maybe the revolution I signed up for will not come from my perpetual activity on behalf of the Kingdom but from silence, stillness, listening, hearing and THEN following after the Voice that cries in the wilderness.
Shhhh... Do you hear a voice crying in the wilderness? Stop, listen, hear and follow.