Most of us who live a modern lifestyle have never experienced true silence. I don't simply mean the absence of talking or the absence of sound -- I mean the absence of all distraction. Unless you've been on a silent spiritual retreat, it's not likely that you've gone a whole day with no talking, no cell phone, no internet, no music, no television, no radio, NOTHING. Nothing to distract you from experiencing the true reality of your thoughts and your encounter with God as a human person.
Those who have chosen to live the monastic life know silence all too well. They know that with silence comes a deep knowledge of oneself in relation to one's Creator. But they also know that with it comes a revelation of the inadequacies of human nature. Many fear silence because it can uncover the deepest desires of one's heart, which to man's dismay, may not always be pure. For this reason, silence is one of the biggest components of Benedictine spirituality because -- as the Benedictine's have been so fortunate to discover-- it is the pathway to purity of heart.
Lack of silence is one of the biggest reasons why our modern culture is so devoid of God. With the television and radio on, the internet in our pockets, and our busy schedules, when is their ever time to truly just exist? A time to encounter God in His full reality? It's no wonder that there are so many agnostics and atheists in our culture because, when one leads a life that is so detached from nature and so filled with distractions, there is no opportunity to hear God say, "Here I am".
Life has not always been this way. There was a time when the average man was a farmer who lived life at a slower pace in tune with the seasons and cycles of nature. Silence was an integral part of his daily life. Farming, though often back-breaking work, was his way of giving glory to God through stewardship of creation. Contemplation was an integral part of daily life because work was his prayer and nature was his 'office'.
But this unfortunately is not the reality of our culture today. We jerk out of bed each morning to the screech of our alarm clock, rush to get ourselves and our families ready for work and school, and then shoot out the door without a moment of reflection. The rest of the day continues in a similar manner -- tasks to complete for a company that has little to no meaning for us, soccer and ballet practice to drop the kids off at after school, errands to run to make life at home somewhat manageable, and a stop to get takeout before heading home because there just wasn't enough time to make dinner tonight. This is the lifestyle of so many Americans and, as a result, the family is crumbling before our eyes and the culture has become primarily secular.
This chaotic lifestyle cannot go on. It has left the world stressed out, unhealthy, and completely out of sync with God and His creation. It has disconnected families, it has led parents to compromise their family's health for the sake of convenience, and it has completely left God out of everything.
This is one of the main reasons why moving towards a more rustic life is so crucial for our modern culture. We need to make room for God in our lives again and one of the greatest ways to encounter Him is through stewardship of His creation. A life dedicated to stewardship through farming is a life of work and prayer with silence integrated throughout each and every day.
But most of us, including ourselves, do not live the rustic life yet (at least not in its totality). So what do we do? Are we doomed to this busy life that makes no room for God? Absolutely not. We can make little changes in our modern lives to start the move towards a more rustic life and, in turn, a more contemplative life.
During this season of Advent, as we prepare for Christ's coming, let's make an effort to add silence and contemplation back into our lives. It can be as simple as driving in the car with the radio off or not turning on the television when you get home from work. Simple adjustments like these are just the beginning to discovering God more deeply in our lives by giving Him a chance to speak to us in the silence of our hearts.
For a compelling documentary on how silence changed the lives of five secular people, watch The Big Silence.
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