From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of Heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” (Matthew 24:42). Spiritual retreats exist for the sake of spending time with God and discerning the present state of our spiritual lives. There are endless ways to structure retreats but one popular way is to embark on silent retreats. Rarely will God force us into silence as God did Zechariah. Neither will many of us find five months of seclusion as did Elizabeth. In our day and age with its competing commitments and responsibilities, we must be intentional about creating silent time with God. This will not be easy.
Beyond prioritizing time for silent periods with God, we may discover inner resistance to our efforts. The idea of being alone with our own thoughts and with God can be intimidating. When we have cleared our lives of distractions and pause to sit in the ensuing space, many surprising and unavoidable feelings and thoughts can surface in our minds and hearts. Furthermore we may hear not only our true selves but also what God is trying to speak into our lives. Silence forces us to name our sources of meaning, value, and identity. It creates room for our buried desires, fears, and other emotions to be heard. Once these emotions surface, we can begin the hard work of attending to them and moving toward spiritual, emotional, and mental health. It is no wonder we do not run more quickly and enthusiastically toward silent retreats or incorporating spaces of silence into our daily spiritual practices. Thankfully God knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows that our growth often requires the transformative journey through seasons of silence in which we learn to listen for God, attend to God, and begin the work of honoring our deepest selves made in God’s image.
The more we inhabit silence, the better our hearing becomes. When we step back into the noise of our world, our hearing is a bit more fine-tuned and more likely to catch God’s whispers. In this way, we learn to stay alert and awake. Imagine the formation that Zechariah and Elizabeth endured during their quiet season. Who knows what holy sounds they hear, what new self-discoveries they make in their old age? Who knows how God is preparing them for the events yet to come: Mary’s visit; John’s cousin Jesus; the way John would be raised; John leaving for the wilderness, his ministry, his imprisonment, his death. As God works in our lives now, God is also preparing us for what lies ahead. When we quiet ourselves long enough to listen for God and to God, we also join in the preparation.
Lord, sometimes your silence is deafening. Help us navigate our way through it. Help us grow more accustomed to finding the gifts hidden in the silence and to reveal them to one another. Amen.