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To Wait for Thee

The spiritual discipline of prayer and contemplation relies heavily on the practice of silence. One of the highlights of my life was participating in a one-day silent retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery on the Red, just twenty minutes outside of Winnipeg, Canada. During our day of silence, we were free to roam the grounds, walk through amazing prayer labyrinths in the beautiful flower gardens, pray through the Stations of the Cross, or cloister ourselves in our rooms and seek God privately. Our community came together at noon for a silent lunch which we all enjoyed. (I’m not going to lie and tell you that I didn’t think of that scene from Sister Act where Whoopi shares her first meal with the other sisters.) Overall, it was an incredible experience that warmed my heart for days afterwards.

Yet, as rich as this experience was, I cannot imagine that this was what the early fathers and mothers of Christianity had in mind when they urged their fellow believers to practice the discipline of silence. Though I am not wealthy by any means, the privilege afforded to me to be able to take part in a day-long retreat at a fabulous resort center, or even to buy a book on the spiritual disciplines, is not one that many Christians around the world can easily partake in. The good news is this: the practice of hearing God through silence is available to everyone. One need not go to a monastery to be silent before God. In fact, centuries before monasteries and convents came on the scene, Christians would withdraw to desert caves for a time in order to hear God more clearly. In the busyness of 21st century life, where do we find these caves of silence, reflection, and renewal?

It is not so much a specific location we are seeking, but our intentions that we bring into the spaces we find ourselves.

It is not so much a specific location we are seeking, but our intentions that we bring into the spaces we find ourselves. My spiritual cave, if you will, was in the gym of my workplace. In this small gym that was usually not very busy, I would often find myself alone, sometimes for the entire length of my workout. Rather than fill the quiet with noise from the music in my iPod, I would exercise in complete silence. In this small, windowless room, I felt the presence of God. I began receiving interesting, and often unusual thoughts as I contemplated various issues and situations in my personal life. I soon realized that these thoughts were from God, challenging me to consider new perspectives, or to think about my life in different and surprising ways. If I had chosen instead to fill up this time and space with mindless sound, I do not know if I would have heard the voice of God so clearly.

Thomas Merton referred to contemplation as “a long loving look at the real.” It was time for me to get real about the issues I was facing in my life and to forge a more authentic relationship with God. A chorus sung in our own Salvation Army tradition expresses what happens when we wait on God in silence:

Silently now I wait for thee,
Ready, my God, thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine.[1]

If the opportunity comes to attend a managed, silent retreat in a beautiful outdoor space with Christian guides that will teach you to attend to the discipline of silence – take it, you will not regret it. More importantly though, if you can begin to carve out a few minutes of every day life, to step into your cave seeking God in silence – the Holy Spirit – the greatest guide, will take you on a new journey with Jesus that will truly change your life.

 

Written by Rob Jeffery of the Salvation Factory

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[1] SASB #786

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