I've been reading about silence. I've been reading articles about silence in books, there's been a daily devotional series about silence, and the subject of silence has cropped up numerous times in our house over the last few months, and I don't just mean references to blessed peace and quiet after the children are finally asleep.
I'm talking about silence before you; silence that allows my brain (theoretically) to still, and the busyness of life to stall for a little while, long enough for me to learn to hear you speak. All the writing I've been looking at has one thing in common and that is that it tells me that you are able to communicate with us in a myriad of different ways, but the way that you use most often is to speak into silence when we just sit with you and give you space.
Why is this so hard?! I can write, I can talk, I can read, I can sing - and yet sitting still and just being is immensely difficult for me. I itch for my keyboard, or my iPhone, or my book, or my notebook. Or even a song.
I've often longed for space, for peace and solitude; with two small children I find that I rarely get to be on my own. I used to like my own company, and I didn't always destroy the silence with music. I remember some very happy times sitting in the sun near a window with a book and a coffee, or my computer, or falling asleep. In those days silence wasn't so precious or so rare. I didn't know that I should somehow be making the most of it. You think you know what life will be life when babies arrive but nothing can really prepare you.
So back to the present, and these days I long for peace. Solitude. Quietness. On the odd occasion I actually achieve these things. But somehow I can't achieve the remaining dimension, which is stillness. My mind has to be occupied; I want to write or read. Or sleep. I can't just switch off and be.
'Be still and know that I am God.'
Is that a command? In which case I should probably start to try a bit harder to crack this one. No doubt I'll start getting anxious because I'm letting you down in some way; that I'm not doing as I'm told. Or is it a piece of advice? If we are still then we can know that you are God. If we are still then you will come and meet us somehow and enrich our experience of you.
So why am I so bad at it? Well, to be honest, one reason is that I'm not trying very hard. In my reading I've been challenged to set aside time to be still, and to commit to practice stillness, and yet I haven't. I'm not sure why I'm so reluctant, but something is stopping me. I feel a bit afraid of it. Like the silent retreat idea; when I watched a documentary about it on television my initial reaction was one of enthusiasm and the desire to run away somewhere and have all that luxurious time to be quiet. I even sent off for details of somewhere I could go to do just that. Then the more I think about it, the more scary it sounds. I suspect that the attraction of a silent retreat for me might be more based on the desire to escape temporarily from my hectic, noisy, busy, unrelenting, exhausting daily routine. To stop the hamster wheel and get off and look around rather than indulge a desire to leave the world behind to meet with you.
Does it come down to personality type? Or can/should everyone be able to find you in silence? I see you around me in nature, in kindness, in beauty, in other people. I find you in things I read and sermons I hear. I find you in music and the words of songs. I find you in the Bible and in devotional writings. You have spoken to me through songs, through my reading, and through other people. You have spoken to me directly on occasion, through pictures or words in my head. You speak to me often by directing my thoughts as I sit here and talk to you like this. So is silence not for me, since I find it so hard, since I'm reluctant and hesitant to try it?
Or is it just a matter of practice and perseverance? Is there something huge and meaningful that I'm missing? I wonder if that's the case.
It seems likely to me that I don't often leave you a space to get a word in edgeways, as they say round here. I talk and I talk and I shout and I cry and I talk some more and then I'm finished and whoosh, I'm off. Doing something else. Loading the washing machine, making coffee, sorting washing, cleaning, writing something else, surfing the internet, playing on Facebook, watching TV, reading something. Sleeping, even. The few occasions I've tried to be still in your presence it's gone something like this:
Ah. Deep breath.
Here I am, Lord.
Deep breath. Sit down, lean back, close eyes.
Turn palms up, try to relax shoulders.
Here I am, Lord.
Try to banish thought that creeps in unbidden that the washing machine has just finished and the clothes need hanging out now as it's going to rain this afternoon and they could be drying in this sun.
Got to make sure I send a birthday card later. What day is it today?
Short attack of anxiety that I can't remember which day it is.
Deep breath. Back on track.
Notice button on window sill from Lizzie's school cardigan. Resist temptation to go and put it somewhere where it won't get lost. Make mental note to remember where it is.
Look out of window. Notice clematis needs fastening to fence. Start to make mental list of other jobs in the garden. Thank you for the beauty of nature, Lord.
Count minutes until school run.
Running short of time.
Refocus. Deep breath.
Here I am, Lord.
Think about cup of coffee. Consider going to make one then returning to attempt at silence. Banish the thought as I've only just had one.
Deep breath. Lord, I'm listening.
Speak to me.
Any time now would be good. Got to go soon.
Phone beeps with text message. Try to resist urge to check it immediately. Fail. Read it, type quick reply.
Now thinking about someone else or a job that needs doing.
Give up. Well, there I was, Lord. For all of five minutes.
Catch you later?
See what I mean? And I can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions where I've even got that far. The other day I went and sat in a graveyard in the beautiful countryside with the sun on my back and a coffee in my hand and it was lovely, but I actually sat still for less than ten minutes, I reckon. Then I was walking round reading the stones, taking photos, thinking my thoughts and throwing the odd one your way.
It's the head-space I can't seem to find.
So help me, will you, Lord? The people I know who can do this seem to get so much from it. If it would please you, I'd like to do it for you too, if I could, not just for what I could get out of it. I'm just not sure how to do it, and there's always something else I could be doing.
I've definitely found that since I've been reading my little devotional pieces and verses of the Bible every morning, that my thoughts are with you much more often in my day. I find myself saying the odd thing to you, lifting my problems, or those of other people to you all through the day in a series of little conversational arrow-type prayers, but sustained prayer and silence isn't my strong suit. I know how much you bless the small hesitant baby steps I make towards deepening my relationship with you, so I have no doubt that you would meet me halfway (or closer) if I grow in this direction.
I give you something so small it's pretty insignificant, and in exchange you shower me with blessings.
Silence. Stillness. Be still and know you are God.
So, show me how. Show me when. Show me more of you, will you?