Meditations from "On Lion's Wings"
December 08, 2013
Beloved of the Lord
In preparation for our Advent Quiet Moments, here are few words from Dallas Willard on solitude and silence (italics are his, bold text sections are mine).
“By solitude we mean being out of human contact, being alone, and being so for lengthy periods of time. To get out of human contact is not something that can be done in a short while, for such contact lingers long after it is, in one sense, over. And silence, a gift of many dimensions, is a natural part of solitude and essential to its fullness. Most noise is human contact. Silence means to escape from sounds and noises, other than the gentle ones of nature perhaps. But it also means not talking, and the effects of not talking on our soul are different from those of simple quietness. Both dimensions of silence are crucial for the breaking of old habits and the formation of Christ’s character in us. Silence well-practiced is like the wind of eternity blowing upon you.
“Now why, precisely, are these disciplines of abstinence so central to the curriculum for Christlikeness? A primary objective in training in Christlikeness is to break the power of our ready responses to do the opposite of what Jesus teaches: for example, scorn, anger, verbal manipulation, payback, silent collusion in the wrongdoing of others around us, and so forth.
“These responses mainly exist at what we might call the “epidermal” level of the self, the first point of contact with the world around us. They are almost totally “automatic,” given the usual stimuli. The very language we use is laden with them, and of course they are the “buttons” by which our human surroundings more or less control us. They are not “deep”; they are just there, and just constant. They are the area where most of our life is lived. And in action they have the power to draw our whole being into the deepest of injuries and wrongs. (“Mob psychology” and “group think” are well-known testimonies to that.)
“Now it is solitude and silence that allow us to escape the patterns of epidermal responses, with their consequences. They provide space to come to terms with these responses and to replace them, with God’s help, by different immediate responses that are suitable to the kingdom environment—and, indeed, to the kind of life everyone in saner moments recognizes to be good. They break the pell-mell rush through life and create a kind of inner space that permits people to become aware of what they are doing and what they are about to do.
“We hear the cries from our strife-torn streets: “Give peace a chance!” and “Can’t we all just get along?” But you cannot give peace a chance if that is all you give a chance. You have to do the things that make peace possible and actual. When you listen to people talk about peace, you soon realize, in most cases, that they are unwilling to deal with the conditions of society and soul that make strife inevitable. They want to keep them and still have peace, but it is peace on their terms, which is impossible.
“And we can’t all just get along. Rather, we have to become the kinds of persons who can get along. As a major part of this, our epidermal responses have to be changed in such a way that the fire and the fight doesn’t start almost immediately when we are “rubbed the wrong way.” Solitude and silence give us a place to begin the necessary changes, though they are not a place to stop.
“They also give us some space to reform our inmost attitudes toward people and events. They take the world off our shoulders for a time and interrupt our habit of constantly managing things, of being in control, or thinking we are. One of the greatest of spiritual attainments is the capacity to do nothing. Thus, the Christian philosopher Pascal insightfully remarks, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own room.”
“Now this idea of doing nothing proves to be absolutely terrifying to most people I speak with. But at least the person who is capable of doing nothing proves capable of refraining from doing the wrong thing. And then he or she will be better able to do the right thing.
“And “doing nothing” has many other advantages. It may be a great blessing to others around us, who often hardly have a chance while we are in action. And possibly the gentle Father in the heavens would draw nigh if we would just be quiet and rest a bit. Generally speaking, he will not compete for our attention, and as long as we are “in charge” he is liable to keep a certain distance.”
Fr. Gregory Crosthwait, SSC