november 25 . 2016

being present : silence

“If you don’t have anything to say, say nothing. Silence is part of the enterprise, and silence is sacred.”

– Michael Longley, Irish poet



I don’t really do Silence. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, there is usually something audible happening – jazz music on Spotify while I work, podcasts in the car during my commute, Madam Secretary episode on DVR while I cook dinner, talking to my long-distance best friends on the phone while cleaning the bathroom. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with silence; I like to think of the constant background sounds as using my time wisely – you know, multi-tasking. Being efficient and all that. So much to discover and hear and so little time in the day.

But I learned something recently – while listening to a podcast, ironically – about input. Apparently, the human brain can only process and contain about three to four pages of information at any given point in time.

I think I try to fit in at least three times that much every day.

So I asked myself, how much am I really retaining?

The answer came quickly – not much.

What if I could change my perspective from: get all the information and insight and wisdom from everyone in every spare minute, to: what do I long to know more about in this season? What do I need to practice or increase my awareness of? What if I could focus my efforts? At least I can listen to/read about/think about one theme, one area of life, one concept.

So, I’m starting with Silence.

I loved this quote from The Clarity that Winter Brings by the Cageless Birds:

“Have you ever noticed how everything gets still and quiet after a snowfall? …Because of their individual patterns, falling snowflakes do not fit perfectly together when they land; rather, they build upon one another and collect in mounds. As a result of the accumulation, small open gaps form in between snowflakes. Sound travels as invisible waves through the atmosphere, and as those waves pass over the piles of fallen snow, pressure squeezes them into those empty, hollow spaces. The sound waves are swallowed up by the heaps of freshly fallen snow. Loud, anxious noises are gone, and all we are left with is the hush in our ears.”

As I read this for the first time, I thought about how much I relish that feeling after a snowfall. Bundled up in a thick coat, a cozy knit scarf and a hat, with heavy boots that require your thickest, warmest socks, probably more than one pair. Trodding through the wonderland of white, your breath escaping in tiny white puffs of smoke from your chilled lips, the inhale drawing ice into your lungs and you bury your mouth into your scarf for respite.

And the
stillness is palpable. It almost makes you want to whisper.

Can you feel it, too? The wonder and the grace and the rich crispness of those moments in the winter?

The hush was by design.

The hush has purpose in beckoning us to desire and welcome the stillness…and not just in that moment after the snowfall.

“…Silence is sacred.”

I don’t think I know what that really means yet. But I’m trying.

I tried this past weekend. I was challenged by a co-worker to sit in silence for an hour. Literally – just sit. With nothing – not even a journal or a Bible or worship music – just me, in the presence of God and in the present Silence. To bring only my presence to commune with His presence.

Guys, it was hard.

I meant it to be a sort of meditative exercise but can I just honestly tell you that my mind wandered at least 100 times in that 60 minutes?

Thankfully, I had been warned of this phenomenon: that when the brain finally has space and room, it will release all the thoughts that need your attention.

The warning included a story about a teacher and a student. The student was assigned to an hour of silence and stillness and returned to the teacher when it was complete, complaining, “I was distracted 70 different times by 70 different things!” and the teacher replied, “What a gift to have 70 opportunities to return your gaze to His face once again.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I thought of that story each of the 100 times I lost my meditative focus. So each time my thoughts took a turn and once I became cognizant of it, I called to mind the memorized scripture that had come to me as soon as I had sat down:

Teach me Your way oh Lord, that I may walk in Your truth. 

Give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your name.

And by minute 58, I was actually enjoying it.

Even in the midst of the attempts and failures to focus completely for 60 minutes, I received incredible insight from the Holy Spirit into that scripture.

The more I think about it, I believe that having a deeper experience and appreciation for this may support the exploration of other themes, areas, and processes. Having a rhythm of silence, of welcomed quiet and space from noise may afford me the mental clarity I long for in these days. So I’m giving myself the opportunity to explore it.

Do you see a need for silence in your life’s rhythm? How would you go about welcoming it and giving it space?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s