Advent is a time for preparation. We prepare ourselves for the day when Jesus was born, to prepare us for His presence in our lives today, through His Holy Spirit and to prepare and anticipate His final coming.
How do you prepare yourselves for Advent? Do you get caught up in the commercialism of the Holiday season? Do you find yourself overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of creating the perfect Christmas? Have you thought to stop, take a deep breath and sit in silence? As you know it is not easy to embrace silence when the demands of life consume us each day.
Over the years I found myself caught up in the fantasy of a perfect Christmas. Although I knew the meaning of Christmas, celebrating the day my Lord was born, I was too busy to feel it. Then the day came when I heard God calling out to me, not in words but in restlessness. Through answering a job ad that did not list the company but only the phone number, little did I know this would be the job God had prepared me for. It would be this job that brought me the opportunity to meet Christine, my spiritual director, Christian mentor and friend. Through Christine, God gave me the gift of silence.
This article on “Silence” was written by the Rev. Dr. Christine Woods-Henderson for her church newsletter. She has graciously allowed me to share it with you, to prepare you in silence for the presence of Jesus. ~
“Silence is often considered together with the spiritual practice of solitude – so much so that these two are sometimes known as the “twin disciplines”.
St John of the Cross said, ‘ The first language of God is silence.’ Jesus took time to go off by Himself to pray and find peace, in order to teach us the value of and the need for silence. As early as the 4th century, desert fathers and mothers practiced silence as much more than not speaking; they created an inner space where genuine listening could occur: for ‘silence carves our a place for God’ (Macrina Weiderkehr). In “Teach Us To Pray”, C.F. Whiston notes that silence is a means to an end, not an end in itself. ‘Its goal is that through silence we shall become stilled – externally and within – and thus be prepared to meet God, to be enabled to hear the whisper of His voice within our minds and hearts – that voice which we must learn to hear and heed.’
Jane Vennard writes about a ‘shadow side’ of silence: someone may have silenced us or we may hear an inner voice saying, ‘No one wants to hear what I have to say.’ Silence is then a punishment. ‘Another aspect of the shadow side is someone else who has used their silence to punish me -‘the silent treatment.’ These experiences may be carried over into silent prayer, so that when God doesn’t seem to be speaking, I may view it as a form of punishment.’
Silence can also be threatening. Whiston states that few of us are at ease in silence: ‘Our busy and noisy world does not train us for it. Often we are afraid of silence, and know not what to do with it, or in it…much of our talking is escape from being alone with our own thoughts, escape from facing God and listening to the Indwelling Spirit.’ Thomas Merton adds ‘it is not the speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard.’
Yet despite our unease or silence’s shadow side, God working through the spiritual discipline of silence has the power to heal the ‘wounds inflicted by the endless words that swarm around us, exhaust us, tires us beyond all tiredness. (In this healing, then,) we need silence in order to be able to listen to our brothers, to listen with the heart…to be able to speak a few words charged with our love, charged with Christ.’ (Catherine de Hueck Doherty). We practice silence to know how to listen to God, to ourselves, and to each other.
Advent is the ideal time to practice the holy habit of silence as the secular world lures us to observe a commercial Christmas. Make time frequently throughout the season to sit before a fire or lighted candle in silence. ‘Ponder nothing earthly minded;’ put aside all distractions; let the gift of silence carve out a place for the baby Jesus in your heart.
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.” (from the Liturgy of St James, 4th century)
Christine Woods-Henderson was ordained in 1989 and is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology. Christine is drawn to spiritual practices; wholeness of body, mind and spirit; nature; silence and solitude; music; sacred spaces; and liturgical dance. She has a special calling to offer spiritual direction to those in the 12 Step recovery. Her ministry is “Interwoven Christian Spiritual Formation”, where she ministers others in the “process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others”
This advent season, I would like to offer you the gift of silence, the ability to listen to God with your heart and to rest in His presence. Advent blessings ~ Patty