Beautiful Questions On Silence, Solitude & Community
In a quiet corner of Camp Allegheny, nature’s song accompanied by occasional cars, is joining different sounds from below the hill, arising from our Western Pennsylvania family, enjoying a late summer day of fellowship, worship and community.
In our every day lives, silence and solitude are rare commodities, unless we look for them. We crank up the music, turn on the TV and fall asleep to sleeping apps. Even in our worship services, a moment of silence may nervously be regarded as space needing to be filled with noise.
“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” says Habakkuk when he is done questioning God about why life is so unfair (Hab. 2:20, NIV). He comes to a point of relinquishing his own limited perspective in favor of inviting Divine order: “I will look to see what he will say to me…” (2:1). God answers, by instructing him to “…write down the revelation…” (2:2), making it clear; that the message of God’s amazing grace may be heard and spread wide and far. Habakkuk eventually breaks his silence, witnessing to God’s revelation, now internalized as a deeper experienced framework of grace: “Lord, I have heard…and my heart pounded…yet, I will wait…” (3:1, 16). The shift away from Habakkuk’s perspective towards God’s makes the whole difference.
We are created with significant ability to listen. As embryos in the womb we gauge our future potential environment as safe and peaceful or as one of disorder and strife. Our initial noisemaking seeks listening responses from others as we become socialized. We quickly realize that interactive language means power with the temptation to use our skills to further a selfish agenda rather than humbly listen to and learn from each other. While our current national political climate is a case study in this disorder we need only ponder our immediate circles of engagement in order to realize that a deficit of silence on our part creates havoc in community.
The discipline of silence helps us to rediscover how much we talk and how little we truly listen. Spending time in active listening without responding unless invited to helps us explore how much power and control are connected with interactive community.
Spending time in solitude and silence alone in order to know God and our inner self is valuable. However it is even more eye opening when practiced in the midst of community. Listening to another is often the greater gift.
Spending time in solitude and silence alone in order to know God and our inner self is valuable. However it is even more eye opening when practiced in the midst of community. Listening to another is often the greater gift. Joel Van Dyke suggests that we ask “beautiful questions” rather than offer excessive advise as we explore our place in creation in relationship with God and others. We may become true followers of Jesus if we sit down at the well (John 4) like he did, offering listening and clarifying questions rather than preaching before the moment is ripe for such an offering.
Life with God is a divine/human love affair of progressive discovery with personal, interpersonal and societal significance. Silence and solitude is a way to explore how spiritual formation and social justice intersect as we open ourselves up to personal and corporate transformation. Silence is not opposite to activity but rather informs the strategy of how and when to speak a word in season. Like Habakkuk, we come before the Lord in great reverence and attentive listening until it is time to walk down the hill towards the laughter and fun, listening and maybe asking an occasional “beautiful question.” We do this while anticipating transformational responses. We go down the hill now “to see what he will say to me” (2:1).
Spend a day intentionally listening rather than talking. Pay attention to your feelings and how God speaks to you through others. Share your experience with a trusted friend and ask God how silence may become part of your united journey towards Christlikeness in community.
Written by Major Margareta Ivarsson, Divisional Secretary & Westmoreland County Coordinator, WPA
Campolo, T.,& Darling, M. (2007). The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Rocke, K., & Van Dyke, J. 2011. Geography of Grace: Doing Theology from Below. Street Psalms Press.
Foster, N. (2014). The Making of an Ordinary Saint – My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.