I had a neat time of sitting in silence together with some friends the other day. We had decided that we wanted to hear from God, and that we would spend some time, sitting around the living room, in solitude and silence…together.
Sounds odd (on any number of levels) perhaps, but it was a sweet time and we did feel like the Lord was pleased to speak to us each individually.
Just today, I thought that it was time for me once again to just sit before the Lord and listen–to just be silent, and see what He might say. Not asking any questions, not carrying any burdens, just creating space in life for Him to speak and for me to hear.
Wow, was it tough.
Beyond the normal idea of sitting still and waiting, I think the difficulty I experienced was in part due to the fact that I wasn’t expecting it to be difficult. In a group setting, we had been able to experience silence and listening; I figured it would be that much easier when I was solo. After all, I can keep myself pretty quiet, but I have no control over others. If 6 of us together could engage in silence, surely as one person on my own it should be no problem.
But I actually found it substantially more difficult. I think part of it is that, with fewer people involved in sitting in silence, there were more people involved in doing things elsewhere. Doing things inevitably creates noise, and so I could hear sounds coming from other parts of the house, sounds that I couldn’t control, sounds brought about by the activities of others who weren’t engaging in the sitting in silence this time.
Apart from noise control, I think there was also a challenge because there was no community, no group involvement. There is something about gathering together, about committing to a purpose and engaging together–even in something as separate and individualistic as silence and listening. Experiencing solitude together sounds like a paradox, and yet, I found it to be incredibly significant.
Certainly there is a place in life for solo solitude; there are centuries of saints–not to mention the example of Jesus Christ Himself–to demonstrate that there is something appropriate about getting away alone. And so, I admit that part of my issue may simply have been a need for greater self-discipline, to hunker down despite the distant distractions and keep my mind attuned and my ears open.
However, beyond stretching my own abilities, I think my experience also highlighted the significance of group life; there are special opportunities and even resources available when one engages in a communal journey. There is the possibility for an atmosphere, and environment, that supports and encourages each other as we each listen and grow, as we’re each nourished and challenged. And after listening and hearing, there is also the chance to process, to take the conversation to another level by talking it through it with our companions.
I have often thought about the special opportunities available when gathered in groups; there are some things that you simply can’t do alone. You can’t sing four-part harmony by yourself. You can’t play full-court basketball by yourself. You can’t participate in a church communion service by yourself (I’ve tried). And so I often consider what are the special activities that can be engaged in while people are together, things that can’t happen when one is alone.
I’m quite certain that “sitting in silence” has never popped up before. But now it will. I will continue to practice sitting and listening on my own. And I will also be looking out for opportunities to sit and listen with others, to engage in solitude…together.