Two words describing a concept I’ve struggled with all my life. My mind is always in motion. I notice the stack of books in my reading queue yet to be read. I see the ceiling damaged from a leaky pipe that needs to be repaired. I can see the post-it note of resources that need to get written prior to my next trip to Uganda. Everywhere I look, I see things that draw me toward more DOING. But amidst the beckoning of these things for my attention, I sense the voice of my Companion inviting me to simply BE.
St. Benedict of Nursia is the 6th century founder of western monasticism. He is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. His main achievement is his Rule of St. Benedict that can be summed up this way: ora et labora – pray and work. In other words, find a balance between our calling to care for our families and all of creation and our need for connection with our Creator. He believed that connection happened best in silence.
Benedict used 2 words for silence: quies and silentium. Quies is the is the silence that comes with the absence of noice. It is what we experience when we turn off the TV, disconnect from our streaming devices, silence our phones and put away our computers. This kind of silence is something each of us knows we need down in the deepest parts of our soul and yet we struggle mightily to make it happen.
Silentium is something different and arguably far more challenging. It’s not so much a silent PLACE as it is a silent SOUL. Richard Rohr says, “Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us.” St. John of the Cross said this silentium is “God’s first language.” I find this kind of silence difficult because it doesn’t just mean entering a electronics free zone. It means establishing a quiet inner attitude in which I set aside all the things vying for attention in my brain, draw from the stillness that is within me and simply BE with God.
Richard Foster in Sanctuary of the Soul suggests that constant distractions create noisy hearts, wandering minds and perpetual inner chaos. If he is right – and my experience tells me that he is – then we need help to slow down and focus our attention on what really matters. The practice of centering prayer, scripture meditation, poetry reading, journaling or rhythmic activities like knitting, walking, or weeding can slow us down, calm our spirits and open new doorways through which to encounter God.
What are the practices that bring silentium to you?