And I've needed it. I've been on a consulting project for Youth Ministry Architects, flying in late Wednesday night and hitting the ground running Thursday morning. Starting at 8:30am, a partner and I sat in "listening groups" with a wide spectrum of folks in the church: jr high students, high school parents, staff, youth leaders, yada yada... hours and hours of talking and listening and talking. And it's all important stuff. Endless notes were taken, questions were asked, more talking.
After a day of listening and talking that started at 8:30am and ended at 9:30pm, I collapsed into my hotel room (an amazing suite at the Marqueen Hotel, where we scored a tremendous mid-week deal) and tried to unwind with a few pages by Henri Nouwen in a book called The Genesee Diary .
I started this book on my trip to Italy and I am so reluctant to end it. So I'm taking it slow, drinking in just a few pages at a time. On this night after the listening groups, my head was hurting, spinning, blurring as I tried to come down off a people-intensive, talk-extensive, concentration-demanding day. Then I read this:
St. Benedict is very clear about the importance of silence. He seems to imply that it is practically impossible to speak about good things without being touched by the evil ones too...Silence needs to become a real part of my life when I return to school [Nouwen was a professor at Yale Divinity School at the time].... Many people ask me to speak, but nobody as yet has invited me for silence. Still, I realize that the more I speak, the more I will need silence to remain faithful to what I say. People expect too much from speaking, too little from silence...
I laid back onto my pillow, and chuckled. Indeed. I wanted silence so badly after a long day of noise. But it wasn't because I was sick of those with whom I had spoken. I didn't want to just shut down, turn off, and withdraw. I was simply glad ~ relieved, really ~ by the quiet. Because then, I could truly listen.
I hear words all day just about every day. But it's actually hard to listen when there is so much conversation. In silence, I've been learning how to turn over words and images and conversations and thoughts like books in my hands at a musty used bookstore. In silence I can sense the Spirit nudging me: Pay attention to that... When they say that, they are hinting at something deeper... Hear their wounding, their ache, their longing...
Silence is becoming not so much a break, though it is that as well. More and more, it is meditation. A "re-listening." Like good spadework, I turn over the soil of those words over and over, poking, prodding, waiting.
It is the same with scripture and listening. This morning in church there was a passing reference to Ecclesiastes 3, the classic passage about "a time to..." This little line is tucked within it, near the end:
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
Do we enter silence as a "time to..."? Or do we usually approach it as "anti-time to...", the time to flop down and do nothing? I argue that that is what rest and more importantly, SLEEP, are for.
I am learning that silence is different. I am slowly seeking out silence like an important (and frequent) appointment. I try to approach it expectantly, listening carefully. This takes practice.
I learned in seminary that the word "obey" in the Greek is actually a fascinating one. It is "hupakouo," which is "hyper-akouo" or "hyper HEAR." How cool is that? To obey means simply, "to listen WELL." As in Matthew 8:27, when it says, The men were amazed, and said, "What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?" Nature herself knew she needed to listen well to her Creator. To listen well affects our actions.
So I leave this project having tried to listen well. To obey what God has placed in front of me, and act accordingly. To take on the privilege of serving others, especially his bride, the church, carefully and thoughtfully. In silence I can hear best what He has for me that day, and how I am to pour out to others. It's a pretty great life. Amen.