Silence & Solitude in a Culture of Noise

Recently, I’ve been privileged to grow in my writing and was extended an invite to share thoughts on sacred rhythms and spiritual practices with another local church. I wanted to take the chance to share it here.


“For God alone my soul waits in silence…”
– Psalm 62:1






I think I was born and raised a musician. There are very early pictures of me, close by my dad’s side as he strummed his guitar. And as the days went by I slowly gained musical experience, exposed to the favourite music of my parents and diving into piano lessons at a young age. It came naturally to me to seek out a soundtrack to life as I heard songs that suited the events of the day.
 
But as I grew as I musician I was introduced to a new concept by teachers and mentors. And it centred around a famous quote from French composer, Claude Debussy.  He said “Music is the space between the notes.”  

In true artistic fashion, each music teacher and mentor took their interpretive license.  For some choir conductors, it was the silent pause before the choir took their first breath to sing or the stubborn pause, after we had finished singing as the conductor held the audience in rapt attention, prolonging the music, into the silence, before dropping their hands and ushering in the applause from the listeners.
 
For other performers, it meant looking off into the distance, inviting the audience into their silence, as if to share their emotions with everyone in the room before falling into an evocative ballad. Or even, the awe-filled quiet as a hush falls over the crowd, as you wait for your favourite band to take the stage and kick off their show with a crowd favourite.
 
Now, is there a logical jump to say that life is lived most fully in both the noise and the silence? Is this the space we are called to occupy? If music is the space between the notes, then is life this beautiful combination between the noise and the silence?
 
It seems that this is the way of Jesus. Luke 5:16 mentions the regular practice of Jesus withdrawing to the lonely places to pray. He lived life among the crowds and in the quiet places. He considered the benefits of noise and crowds, with silence and solitude. His life was fullest as he embraced the noise of an extrovert’s dream with people packing in around him and the introvert’s most precious quietness and positively beautiful loneliness as he snuck away to the mountainside or garden to pray.  The symphony of Jesus’ life was a masterful use of the most beautiful melodies and space between the melodies to truly appreciate both sound and silence.
 
But what does this mean for us? This seems all very poetic and thoughtful but what about me? 

Maybe, when we never experience silence we don’t understand the beauty of all the noise around us.  Or vice versa, when all we experience is silence we don’t appreciate the noise and, most importantly, the source of the noise.
 
Recently, I took the opportunity for a silent retreat.  This was the kind of experience that Pastor Oliver refers to as a stretch practice. I fully expected it to stretch me. You see, my life is filled with the beautiful cacophony of an extrovert spouse and 3 young kids, aged 8, 6 & 4. So, I planned for 8 hours of no sound at all, while I drove the connector and Coquihalla to Vancouver and back. (I had decided I needed something to keep my attention and chose to drive rather than simply going off somewhere and sitting in stillness and silence and solitude). It had been a while since I stretched myself in silence and I was unsure what to expect.
 
As I entered into my 8 hours of silence and solitude I prayed that God would meet me where I was at, provide safe travel, and stir something new in me. And He did.
 
The short version: God stirred a new wonder in me. As I drove, I realized I didn’t have to be afraid of simply being silent with God. It was good that I was driving, but I realized I didn’t need to rely on it. I was so thankful to simply be in His presence. I realized that in my preparation for silence, I didn’t even have the slightest temptation to turn on music. I realized that the words that came out of my mouth (that broke the silence) had significant force as they broke through and caused me to reflect the power of words. I realized that God had prepared me to meet with Him that day, in ways I didn’t even know I was ready for.
 
Up until that day, my silent practices had been a refuge that I ran to when life was loud: a late evening after my family went to bed, an early morning before anyone else was up, a run on the rail trail without a podcast or music in my ears, simply listening to the sound of nature around me and the slow plod of running shoes on pavement. Each of those have been significant as a practice but when I truly committed my time to Jesus, He used that time in ways I never could have imagined.

He began to write a new song for me that stirred awe and wonder, filling in the sound of the notes of life’s activities and the space in between. It was becoming a symphony of melodies, all tied together by the silence, where God held my attention, like choir conductors and mentors had in years past.
 
As you enter into the practice of silence, whether you’re diving into an an entry, baseline or stretch practice of silence and solitude, take the time to prepare. Use a breath prayer or phrase of scripture to demonstrate your openness to what He is wanting to do. Build structure so that you aren’t falling into some undirected time. (Have a destination, set an alarm, or make a plan so that you don’t feel like you have to be constantly aware of “when your time is up”). 

Have a plan for “re-centring” your mind as it wanders; when there is a temptation to seek out the noise of life, or as your mind wanders towards distractions that pull your attention from what God is wanting to do.  What adjustments will you make to bring you back into the intimacy of silence with God? And lastly, consider how you will re-enter into the noise. Jesus, after withdrawing, met with his friends as He quietly strode across the water (Matthew 14:22-34). Or, he joined them as they awoke for the next day. Your departure out of quiet will help your bear the best fruit and grow your appreciation for noise and the good sources behind it.
 
Most importantly, as with any spiritual practice, start where you’re at, not where you think you should be.  If you’ve never practiced silence and solitude, start small. Pete Scazzero encourages those who have never experienced it to set a one-minute timer and find a word or scripture phrase to give your focus to. That’s how I started.

Then, let it grow from there. Eventually, let God surprise you as it grows from one minute, to two, to five, to an hour, or an afternoon. God uses each moment, in the silence and in the noise, to grow your appreciation for who He is, who you are created to be and what you will be able to join God in doing as you seek His kingdom first.


How do you manage the noise of life? What rhythms and practices have you built into your life to meet God in silence and in noise? 

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