By Grace Pratt Morris-Chapman
Silence is a gift that many prefer not to engage. It is a bit like a forgotten Christmas present that ends up at the back of a cupboard we rarely open. It often takes life-shattering events that mess up our action-filled, well-manicured lifestyles, expectations, and perfectly good and purposeful godly pursuits to cause us to open the cupboard and retrieve this gift of grace. But then what does one really do with silence?
Dropping everything and stepping away from others and our commitments for a while means that emails will go unanswered, targets may not be met on time, meetings might be missed, the dishes in the sink will continue to pile up and our needs-doing-immediately list will grow longer.
For some of us the urge to achieve and to be appreciated for who we are and what we do is intrinsically tied to our sense of well-being and happiness, and so the thought of letting go for a while is fearsome. For others being alone is frightening; it may bring up thoughts and feelings we would much rather drown in activity and busyness. In some ways, we lose control when we embrace the gift of silence and solitude. However, in the end, we discover that we actually gain freedom — such a liberation that cannot be experienced any other way.
“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray” (Mk 1:35).
The Synoptic Gospels present to the reader an interesting glimpse into the life of Jesus: he often withdrew to spend time alone, usually early in the morning. There is also the account of Jesus sending the disciples and the crowd away and spending some time alone in prayer (Mt 14:22-23 and Mk 6:45-46). The reader understands that this was a regular part of his life, just as it is recorded that it was his custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath or to Jerusalem during the feasts.
Silence and solitude are to be built into the Christian life as a discipline alongside the other spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, service, generosity, meditation, confession and fasting. They are vital to our growth in the love and the knowledge of God and not just aids to the occasional pause in or remedy for our activity-filled, fast-paced, technology-driven world.
Silence and solitude are not some optional or pick-me-up exercises to make us feel good when we are overwhelmed by life, but spiritual disciplines to be practised. We need to daily, willingly, and intentionally submit to the gentle call of our Lord to come and be. When and how we do this is not prescriptive; there are of course a variety of techniques. But in reality, this is a divinely initiated dance, during which each disciple discovers their own unique steps as we daily, obediently follow the Lord’s lead.
A Natural Rhythm
Silence and solitude as part of the spiritual disciplines lead to an awakening that ignites a natural thirst for God. There is no longer any fear of or reluctance towards being silent and withdrawing. What was once a discipline to be practised grows into something we desire and for which we eagerly yearn. The psalmist discovered this and exclaimed, “How lovely is your dwelling place… A single day with you is better than a thousand elsewhere!” (Ps 84).
Pausing to be quiet, to listen, to rest, to be challenged, and to be refreshed in obedience to the call of God in the midst of the crushing pressures of today’s world is radically life-changing and draws us ever more deeply into relationship with God. The Spirit of God places within the soul a refreshing, soothing spring, which overflows into the outer life; and permeates every aspect of a person’s life.
While many people search for ways to quiet the noise within and around them and to withdraw from crippling fears, demands and expectations, the disciple simply experiences an inexplicable freedom and peace as part of the gentle rhythm of the grace of God in their lives, an incomprehensible gift which they, in grace, can invite others to experience.
God in his grace invites us to draw near through the gift of silence and solitude; it is about time we opened up our lives more and more to receive the richness therein. It requires us to submit to God’s ways of ordering our lives and pausing ever so often to let the rhythm of grace order our steps.
Suggested listening: Song about Silence by Daniel Pratt Morris-Chapman
Photo by Heather Walker
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Grand Rapids, MI.: Revell, 1967)
Foster R., Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989)
Tozer A. W., The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine (Camp Hill, PA.: Christian Publications, 1982)
Grace Pratt Morris-Chapman is a British Methodist Mission Partner, originally from Ghana, currently serving in Rome with her husband Daniel, who is the Minister at Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church. They have four children.