This post is from an excerpt of my new book project with InterVarsity Press… tentatively titled Disciplines of Justice.
The Discipline and Gift of Silence
In the practice of silence, prayer and meditation are often incorporated. Silence, like meditation, is what the Quakers call “centering.” Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline: “It is a time to become still, to enter into the recreating silence, to allow the fragmentation of our minds to become centered.” This allows the opportunity for God to “commune with you.”[i] Silence allows one to be still, listening for the words of God to our hearts, souls, and mind. Foster writes: “Without silence there is no solitude;” inner solitude and inner silence are inseparable.[ii]
Silence greets different people in unique ways. Sometimes, the gift of silence is the lack of mental clutter that keeps us frazzled, distracted, and worrying about burdens of daily life. Other times, silence is filled with deep truth of words that God desires to speak to our hearts. Adele Calhoun writes of silence in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: “The discipline of silence invites us to leave behind the competing demands of our outer world for time alone with Jesus. Silence offers a way of paying attention to the Spirit of God and what he brings to the surface of our souls.” [iii] Calhoun reminds us, “Silence is a time to rest in God.” [iv]
Over the years, I have participated and led many retreats of silence. I am regularly overwhelmed by how different each retreat is experienced by the men and women who participate. When I begin a retreat, I am able to say with confidence: “I do not know how the Lord will speak to us in the days ahead, but I know that He will be with us in our silence.” I have not once been disappointed. Each and every time, the Lord has revealed Himself. Sometimes participants in the silence experience a release of grief and sorrow. Other times a young man or woman will come face to face with an encounter of the truth of God’s love and forgiveness. Sometimes the silence serves to comfort. Other times, the silence provides the space for personal conviction. Silence can be scary, because one often doesn’t know what will be revealed when the soul is quiet and still. However, the comfort of knowing God is with us in the silence provides courage to enter in.
From Silence to Service
As one enters into silence, room is created for God to do the work of transforming our souls. The spiritual discipline of silence changes us, inside and out. Richard Foster calls attention to this “transforming power of silence.”[v] As a person becomes more connected to themselves and to God, clarity of purpose emerges out of the silence. Christians not only experience the truth of God’s love for each of us as individuals and for all of humanity, but we are also reminded of the commandments in Scripture to love our neighbor (Matt 22:37). The spiritual discipline of silence directly motivates and compels people toward other-oriented service. The Quakers practice of silence provides further evidence of the strong correlation between the integration of silence and service. Foster acknowledges that silence is a direct pathway to service.[vi] He writes about the outcome of the Quaker practice of silence: “the result has been a vital social impact far in excess of their numbers.”[vii]
[i] Foster, 30.
[ii] Foster, 98.
[iii] Calhoun, 108.
[iv] Calhoun, 109.
[v] Foster, 98.
[vi] Foster, 139.
[vii] Foster, 22.