Forward Friday: Becoming Listeners
Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims.
I’ve been thinking about this quotation of Nouwen’s all week. Why is it that silence is what moves us forward? What is the value of silence to the spiritual life?
The answer hit me yesterday morning when I awoke before my alarm and lay listening to the gentle drops of rain on the window. It rains so rarely here, and when it does, the rain is more like mist or drizzle. You have to be really quiet, really still, to hear the rain against the window.
As I lay listening to the rain, I realized something very obvious and un-profound: we must be silent, we pilgrims on our spiritual walks toward God, because it is in the silence that we learn to be listeners.
The spiritual discipline of silence is about more than one individual act of listening. It’s more than just creating space to hear from God in the moments we are seeking amidst the busy-ness of life. In silence is where we learn humility, truth, grace, peace, conviction, compassion. Practicing silence is about changing our mode of operation, changing our orientation to the world, to life, to God. Practicing silence is about cultivating a listening spirit, a listening heart. It’s about becoming listeners.
Only then, in the silence we have cultivated, will we be able to hear the soft drops of rain glancing against the window, so easy to miss. Only then, as listeners, will we be able to discern the way forward. To be silent keeps us pilgrims.
This weekend, take some time to practice being both silent and in silence. Try this exercise to get started:
- Find a quiet spot and a comfortable position. (Stillness is valuable, but you may find a steady activity like walking or swimming helpful as well.)
- Plan the amount of time you want to try to be in silence. If you’re new to it, try starting with one-three minutes. For more experienced travelers, try working up to 15-30 minutes. If helpful, set a timer or alarm so you can relax into the silence without worrying about watching the clock.
- Be in silence. If helpful, light a candle as a focal point or close your eyes. If you’re walking, fix your eyes on a steady spot on the horizon.
- As you are in silence, acknowledge any thoughts, ideas, or feelings that surface. Gently release them and return to your focal point.
- Notice what you hear around you or even perhaps within you, both inward and outward. This is not a time for analysis or cognitive effort. Just notice and pay attention to what happens in the silence.
- After your silence ends, take some time to reflect on your experience. What was it like? Were you distracted? Anxious? Bored? What did you notice during the silence, both about yourself and about what was around you? Did you sense a message from God? From your body? Did you find yourself plagued by some doubt or pain you’ve been avoiding? What did you learn from your experience that might inform your practice of silence next time you try it?
Come back and share your experience in the comment box below. Let’s talk together about what it’s like to learn to become listeners.