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Lenten reflections: the power of solitude and silence

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Photo kindly supplied by Mary de Muth

Two weeks ago I received an email from my brother letting me (and my other siblings) that mom was in hospital due to extremely high blood pressure and was likely to stay there for a few days. Mom is Dad’s main carer so it was clear that we kids were going to need to help care for Dad while mom was convalescing.

As my employment is currently variable I was able to man the day shift and my brother and a family friend took turns doing the night shift. Everything I had planned for the week was now re-scheduled or cancelled.

One of the side effects of Dad’s strokes a few years ago was a reduction in certain cognitive functions so powers of speech, reading and concentration were impaired. Conversations with Dad take longer than usual and as a result tend to cover fewer topics simply because of the effort required.

But I’ve come to appreciate two wonderful gifts this season has provided: reading him books and spending time in each other’s presence being silent. In particular, just being with Dad has become a special time, irrespective of whether anything is said.

40 days in the Wilderness

“Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.” (Mark 1:12-13 NKJV)

As we know, the structure and themes of the 40 days of Lent is based on the wilderness experience of Jesus. Beyond these 40 days we read often during the gospels how Jesus would leave the crowds, the disciples and spend entire nights by Himself. Well, I don’t believe He was by Himself; rather He was communing with the Father.

Solitude

Jesus gave high priority to the practice of solitude. He sought solitude on many occasions and in particular, chose mountains to be the place of choice for solitude.

In order to seek God, we need to find places where we can be alone with Him. It obviously doesn’t have to be a mountain, but its’ important to find a space in your day where you can be alone with Him, leaving everything and everyone aside. Lynn and Dineen share regularly of their prayer walks.

It’s hard in our busy lives to find moments of solitude especially if you’re working 12 hours a day or taking care of little kiddies all day. I know I used to often escape to the bathroom at work and just sit in one of the stalls for five or ten minutes to get away.

Silence

I love this statement from Dr Archie Parrish:

“If solitude means getting away from the busyness around us, silence is stilling the busyness within us.”1

I know I find it difficult to slow the internal talk. Being silent can be terribly confronting and at first can be unsatisfying because it’s where we meet our demons. The clashing cymbals of anxiety, anger, critical spirit and expectation to name just a sample are likely to invade our quiet time. And that’s before we add in external gongs like hungry kiddies wanting breakfast, email, social media, and so on.

I recall reading about Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1) one year during Advent. They both had long periods of quiet during Elizabeth’s pregnancy: Zechariah nine months, Elizabeth five. Time to meditate and contemplate all the angel Gabriel had told them and whom they were soon to introduce to the world: their son, John, who was to be known as John the Baptist.

“The more we inhabit silence, the better our hearing becomes. When we step back into the noise of our world, our hearing is a bit more fine-tuned and more likely to catch God’s whispers. In this way, we learn to stay alert and awake”2

This Week

Whether or not you’re observing Lent may I encourage you to this week to discover a way in which you can allow yourself some time to be alone and silent. Five minutes will suffice if that’s all you can find. Settle yourself with some deep breaths, in and out. Initially simply focus on your breathing as you allow your mind to “let go” of everything. As one gong invades (they will) simply release it as you exhale.

Once you’ve found some calm simply ask the Lord a question:

“Lord, how can I let you love me in this moment?”

Enjoy being cherished and loved by your Lord.

How do you find time to be still and enjoy simply being in the Lord’s presence? Be wonderful if we could amongst ourselves as a way of encouraging each other with some new ideas.

Be blessed, dear friends.

Notes: 1. “A Simple Way to Pray – The Wisdom of Martin Luther on Prayer;” Dr Archie Parrish – Serve International, Fifth Ed 2009, p96 2. “Silence – and other Surprising Invitations of Advent”, Enuma Okoro, Upper Room, p.56

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