guest blog post by David Henson (@unorthodoxology)
In the course of a given day, I probably spend more time tying my shoes than I do actually listening.
Sure, I hear a lot of things. I live in a noisy world, especially with two small children under foot and corporate advertising incessantly trying to get me to buy something that will complicate my life with unbelievable convenience.But I don’t listen.
Because to even begin to listen, I believe we need a good bit silence, and there is so little of that, in my life, in my leisure and especially in church.
And whenever I come to a point of silence, especially when I am alone, I do my best to prattle on and on about nothing much, because I fear if I am quiet for too long, I might start to listen only to hear nothing but silence in the depths of my soul.
Or perhaps I would hear too much.
Too much longing, too much doubt, too much questioning. Too many fears, too many hopes deferred, too many expectations. Too much of myself, unfiltered by the noise I have so carefully erected in my life to keep my sanity.
But mostly I fear that I will begin to listen for God.
And then hear nothing at all.
But that’s not exactly true. It wouldn’t be nothing I would be hearing. There is a difference between the silence of God and nothingness.
When I was in college, I went to a Baptist church that every week incorporated what it called “the discipline of silence” into its services.
For anywhere between 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, the entire congregation would sit in complete silence. When I asked the pastor whether he thought we could ever sit in silence longer than that, he responded that most people tend to be uncomfortable with too much silence, which, of course, is true.
But I still wonder what it would be like if a group of Christians managed to shut up for longer than a half-hour on a regular basis. I wonder what would happen if some of us committed to stop praying, in the traditional sense, and began listening.
I’m tempted to think there would be some soul-stirring peace that would lead to divine revelations and holy acts of compassion and justice. I’m tempted to think that it would be a profound and difficult experience in which God would manifest in unusual and striking ways.
But more than likely, as my old pastor commented, it would just be uncomfortable.
And, I suspect, it would be uncomfortable because when I finally stopped filling in the blanks for God while waiting for some divine word, I would realize that God wasn’t speaking.
I would realize that God was silent and that instead of all these brilliant insights I expected to find, I would discover the profound depth of the absence of God.
And maybe, if that didn’t spook me too much, after a few years of listening in silence, I would realize that my silence is my best and only prayer.
And maybe, in another decade or so, I would realize that in the roiling noise of mass culture and frenetic life, the silence of God is one of God’s most compassionate gifts, and that I would be thankful that God doesn’t talk as much as I do and isn’t so insecure as to need to blabber on and on about nothing.
Maybe, in another decade, I would come to love the silence as a place of refuge, as a cleft in the rock of the storms and sorrows of life.
Maybe, by the time I am an old man, I would listen and hear the silent voice of God, saying nothing with a soul-stirring eloquence.
husband, dad, episcopalian, in that order