There are lots of places we go. The world has gotten smaller and we can jet here and there with relative ease. There is another journey that will enrich our lives and add to our health as people. It is a movement from Outer Silence, to Inner Silence to Holy Solitude. For this journey we need to pack a few things before we begin.
I am writing this on the first day the season of Advent. Advent in the church calendar is marked by longing, waiting and hope. We prepare ourselves to greet Jesus Christ the Newborn King at Christmas. Through prayer, study and reflection we focus our attention on the promise of redemption and for a new way to live. This pilgrimage can be taken at anytime but in this season of hustle and bustle it is a welcomed space of quiet. The journey begins with…
Outer Silence. We are constantly bombarded with static that distracts us or in some cases makes the air so thick we have trouble breathing. I intentionally fall off the grid: cut off the 24/7 news feed; escape from facebook, twitter, emails, texts letting the battery die on my smart-phone; turn off the television and eliminate all the external distractions. Years ago when we bought the farm where we still live, I had the task of cutting three acres of grass. It took about four hours to complete this task. I would climb on the tractor and would enter a space that was quite refreshing and comfortable. Though there was the roar of the engine it was a place of isolation. I would think, sing, pray, laugh and escape for those hours in my own yard. It became a weekly retreat from April to November (we live in Florida with and extended growing season) This is outer silence.
Inner Silence is quieting my mind. All the to-do lists, the questions; the problems; the worries, the things that keep us up at night are deliberately set aside. These are things that will be necessary to deal with but I choose to deal with them later. I do this by calculated prayer. A few years ago a friend gave me an Anglican Rosary, a chain of beads, I tossed it in my briefcase and on one trip to the hermitage cleaning out my bag I found it. As I hiked the trails in the mountains I carried it in my hand and let every bead become a prayer. It was a helpful tool to quite my mind. I prayed for my family, the congregation I served, Canterbury (the retreat center of my current vocation) and other needs, people, and more that came to mind. It was like taking every one of these concerns and laying them before God not to be revisited or picked up until I needed to do so. It was vivid picture of setting aside the internal thoughts and getting to a place of peace and communion.
We live in a fast paced world of urgency. Get it done! We are often driven to succeed, to push, to fight, to strive. The Purpose Driven Life a tremendous book by Pastor Rick Warren had great impact on the American / Western culture. I love the content but not the title of this book. I do not want a driven spirituality. I do want a purpose–filled life but if anything will move me forward I want it to be the presence of God. I do want my life to count, to make a difference, to have impact. I want to be successful. Yet, what is becoming much more important to me in these days is not what I do, but who I am. My identity is not tied to the numbers in my bank account (Thank God!); the size of business or ministry I steward; but rather who I am as a person, created in God’s image and meant to enjoy Him forever. I discover this most in the journey from outer to inner silence that leads to Holy Solitude.
Holy Solitude is a place of encounter. I truly become still and though physically I may be alone, I enter into the communion of saints, the presence of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a sacred space of transformation; a place of renewal and affirmation resting in the love of God that envelops the totality of my being. It is a place where I listen and dare say hear the voice of the Lord speaking to me.
A few years ago I found myself in a place of great disappointment. It was hard to bear. Something I thought and believed would be, did not happen. As I got still and processed this it felt like failure. In that stillness I heard the Lord say to me, You are my child, you were faithful to do what I asked you to do, you will make it through this I am with you and always will be with you. I sensed in that moment that all I truly had was God and I joyfully discovered He was enough.
Having these moments are essential for a healthy life. Places that become markers in our earthly pilgrimage. The patriarchs of the Old Testament would find these spaces of encounter and they would construct altars and set up stones to commemorate the moment of encounter. I love this account…
“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”” (Genesis 28:16–17 ESV)
There is delight and surprise, reverence and fear, hope and affirmation all knit together in the experience. By identifying these moments in our own lives, by entering hermitages or wilderness landscapes, refreshing vistas of the ocean, we are renewed. Where is your sacred space? Where do you encounter God? Join the adventure of growing in faith and love. Be reminded of “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV) Through this kind of practice, these prayers, we spend our lives polishing the glass and seeing more each time we do. I long for the day to see my Lord face to face, to know fully as I am fully known.