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Long Beach, CA

The Gift of Silence (Silence II)

Imagine riding down the freeway at 100 miles an hour, your head out the window. Imagine the wind whipping around you so that you can barely hear anything, save for the roar of the road. Now imagine the whisper of God’s Spirit, coming as a “still, small voice.” [1] You can’t hear it, drowned as it is by the noise. That’s what both hurriedness and endless noise do: they cripple us from hearing the whisper of God’s Spirit that keeps us grounded in God Himself.

God’s voice most often comes as a whisper. And we must hear that whisper if we are to see Christ “fully formed within us.”[2] Without that grounding whisper, we are too easily deceived about what life is all about. We become vulnerable to the inner voices of shame and guilt and despair. The more stressed, the more hurried, the more frazzled, the more overstimulated we are by the barrage of noise, the more difficult it is for us to hear the voice of God. No wonder it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God![3] Distraction of any sort—and this certainly includes the noisy distraction of money—is enough to keep us from ever engaging our soul’s deepest longing for God. And with so many things to distract us, why would we create space to face our inner fear of silence? Spiritual life is wonderfully connected to the body. If we are tired, it becomes much easier to ignore the whisper of our spirit telling us to make wise choices. And if our bodies are over-encumbered with noise, we have the same problem; we become dulled to both the voice of our conscience and the voice of God.

If our soul is going to thrive in awareness of God’s grace, if our lives are to be empowered to love others with purpose and power, if our ears are going to hear the whisper of God’s Spirit which leads us into a life of abundance, we need some barrier between us and the wall of sound to help us stay grounded in the life of God. This is what silence is about: it’s about establishing time and space to encounter the reality of God in the inner quiet of our hearts. In silence, we train our souls to be with God. This is the gift and power of silence. When we create it, we begin to discover that God is speaking, and that we can train ourselves to recognize and know the whisper of His voice around us and in us. Silence, then, is a boulder in the river of life, forming a retreat out of life’s noisy rapids.

When I experienced, in college, the depression that left me wondering where on earth God was, it was in silence in the cafeteria that I heard an almost audible voice of Jesus. I was sitting in an empty cafeteria, full of anger and sorrow, trying to pray. I’d been depressed for months, all the fear I had buried over many years is finding its way out (as it always does). I just wanted the struggle—the “dark night”—to be over. I rapped my fists on the table in frustration, saying, “God, why can’t I just learn whatever it is You want me to learn?” And in one of the strangest moments of my life, I heard the voice of God. Not audibly, but just as clear in my heart and mind as the words you’re reading on this paper. It says: You must unlearn what you have learned. My body, which is curled over the table in frustration, bolts upright. I look around for a voice, that’s how clear it was. You must unlearn what you have learned.

(The kicker came three days later, when I was randomly in the dorm room of a friend of a friend. I noticed a Star Wars flip-a-page-each-day calendar sitting on a desk. The picture for the day was of Yoda, and it included a quote: “You must unlearn what you have learned.” I had an out-of-body experience, my brain careening out of my head. I guess the Holy Spirit can speak through Yoda. Who knew?)

While I wish that I had this sort of nearly audible experience all the time, I don’t. My dominant experience of hearing the whisper of God’s Spirit is just that: it comes as a whisper. But silence is the space that prepares our heart to receive God’s voice, however it comes. If we learn to hear it in the silence of our hearts, we will carry that whisper with us even when the world around us is loud.

Indeed, we are meant to thrive in silence. Silence relieves stress and can perhaps even regenerate brain cells.[4] Studies have demonstrated that silence has a measurable physiological effect, reducing anxiety and changing our brain patterns. The consistent practice of silence can quite literally rewire our brains. Silence will, in concrete terms, put us in contact with the Spirit of God. So when Scripture tells us to “cast all your anxiety onto Jesus,” we should note that our bodies are poised to release anxiety when they are primed by silence.[5] Or when Scripture tells us to “be still and know that [He is] God,” we should be confident that silence and stillness is a spiritual and bodily medium through which God speaks and through which the knowledge of God comes.[6]

When we are especially pressed or stressed by life, it becomes all the more urgent to spend time—more time, in fact, not less—in silence. When that happens for me, I go to our local nature center to be reminded of God’s grace all around me. I then seek to carry this awareness with me back into the roar of life’s river. Even as an occasional practice—but ultimately, ideally, as an enduring habit—the discipline of silence will help to transform our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and our spirits, grounding us in our adoption and empowering us to love others as God does.


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[1] See, for example, I Kings 19:12

[2] Galatians 4:19

[3] Matthew 19:24

[4] Nautilus Magazine, Online, ‘This is Your Brain on Silence.’ August 24, 2014. (March 4, 2017)

[5] I Peter 5:7

[6] Psalm 46:10