Dear siblings in Christ,
Deep thanks for your support and encouragement as I attended the contemplative immersion with the Ecumenical Center for Clergy Spiritual Renewal (ECCSR), July 8 – 18 at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison, Wisconsin. This national program is created to help clergy explore, develop, and practice contemplative spirituality in community. The premise of the program is that when pastors are supported in contemplative practices, they are deeply nourished, and then turn to lead differently and more effectively. The program is an excellent match both for me as a priest and for us as a congregation. We are all going to benefit.
Silence is a contemplative practice. You may have heard of a person going on a “silent retreat”. Maybe you’ve done that yourself. Our days at the ECCSR were punctuated with the rhythm of regular silences. We also took a 24-hour period of complete silence as a community.
I am very comfortable with silence. I can go for days without opening my mouth and have no problem with that at all. In fact, I find I like and need that sometimes. But the contemplative practice of silence is not for silence’s sake. The practice of silence is intended to help us rest in a place of deep internal stillness, even as we wade through the cacophony of stimuli around and within us. I was reminded during our silent day that being quiet is only the first step.
That deep internal stillness matters. When we aren’t still we tend to follow each (and every!) thought, opportunity, curiosity, pain, or desire. All of these are spiritually loud and not always spiritually helpful. When we practice silence, we notice how internally restless we are and the depletion that accompanies that restlessness. With time and practice, silence offers an invitation to us to lay down that restlessness and simply be still in God’s presence. When we are still, the dust settles.
Every Saturday you have an opportunity to explore this stillness with a group of people who gather for centering prayer (let me know if you are curious about this – it may be time for some helpful teaching on what centering prayer is…). When we gather for worship, you can explore stillness by sitting in silence beforehand. You can begin to integrate silence in your day by simply stopping for one minute as you move from one task in your day to another.
Several weeks ago we heard the story of Elijah hearing God speak in “the sound of sheer silence”. In these weeks following Pentecost we’ve been asking how we know we are being led by the Holy Spirit. Cultivating inner stillness is one way we can awaken to that sheer silence and hear God speak.
With love and in faith,