by Christine Sine,
Last week, I found myself re-reading a portion from Return to Our Senses about learning to listen to silence and spent the whole week trying to immerse myself in silence. I asked my Facebook followers: What sounds draw you into silence? Then came Lilly Lewin’s inspirational Freerange Friday – The Gift of Silence. I think God is trying to say something here and not just to me.
Sixteenth-century John of the Cross called silence God’s first language. Not so much a silent place which is almost impossible in our noisy world, but a silent soul, almost as difficult to accomplish with our wandering minds, noisy hearts, and perpetual inner chaos. But once again, I pose my question of a few years ago: Are We Deaf to Silence?.
St Benedict uses 2 words for silence: quies and selentium.
Quies is the silence that comes with the absence of noise. The silence that comes as we turn off the TV, disconnect from the internet and discard our cell phones. This is an external silence. It is an extremely important form of silence that all of us who live busy, urban lives crave and yet find it difficult to enter into. And it is one aspect of the silence that I always appreciate during our quarterly retreat times.
Silentium is an internal and intentional posture of complete attentiveness towards God. It is the silence of making space for, taking time for, and paying loving attention to the One we proclaim to be our beloved God. This kind of silence is often expressed in contemplative prayer. It is often more difficult to enter into than quies because it doesn’t just mean finding a quiet place, it means establishing a quiet attitude. It requires us to set aside the distractions of our minds and hearts, draw from the stillness that is within us, and communion with the spirit of God in a very special way. It is this kind of silence that I think Elijah experienced in the wilderness as related in 1 Kings 19:11-13 (adapted from Return to Our Senses 53, 54).
I suspect that we are even more deaf to the silence of silentium than we are to the silence of quies.
Richard Foster suggests that the reciting of poetry is one way to help enter into this kind of contemplative silence as it invites us to slow down and listen. The reciting of Psalms is obviously a good place to start, but I am increasingly finding that contemporary prayers written by others provide a marvellous pathway to silentium. One of my favourite prayer writing inspirers is John O’Donohue. His book, To Bless The Space Between Us, is one that I come back to time and again. However, over the last couple of weeks, I have also been invited into silence by poetry written by some of our own Godspace authors. Kim Balke’s Driftwood Dreams has had me in tears at times and has the added advantage of inviting me back into physical spaces where I have found silent refreshment in the past. Ana Lisa de Jong‘s poetry is particularly inspirational and I love how Jenneth Grazer reads her poem Alchemist from her book, Joy Instead of Mourning: Words For Winter. Talk about drawing me into silence!!!
I don’t find that it is just reading poetry that draws me into silence, it is also writing it that touches my soul in a way that nothing else seems to. As you know, I write a lot of poetry these days, much of it revolving around garden imagery. Not surprising as the garden is one of the places where I most frequently encounter the silentium of God. I hope you enjoy this poem which bubbled up from within me as I contemplated silence this week and particularly as I thought about what invites me into silence. You might like to take some time to reflect on what invites you into silence too.
There are sounds
That call me into silence,
That invite my soul to rest
And sit in the Holy presence of my beloved Jesus.
There are sounds
that still the chaos of my mind
that quiet my wandering heart and center my distracted spirit.
The melody of birds in the early morning hour,
The soft fall of water in my desktop fountain,
The whisper of my breath
As I turn my thoughts inwards,
Towards my beloved One.
Here I sit in reverential stillness
At peace within and without,
Surrounded by the gentle embrace,
Of the One who is my all and in all.
© Christine Sine – June 2021
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