Sunday, March 19, 2017

Paul Tournier On the Importance of Silence


Image result for john piippo silence
Woman praying in Jerusalem
In the mid-1970s, while studying at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was introduced to the writing of Swiss physician Paul Tournier. I eventually picked up a volume that contained four of his books - The Best of Paul Tournier: Guilt and Grace; The Meaning of Persons; The Person Reborn; To Understand Each Other. Linda and I used to give, as gifts to wedding couples, Tournier's slim, but deep, To Understand Each Other.  

Tournier wrote from a depth few seemed to possess. What was his source? He explains in an interview, found here (Paul Tournier, "A Listening Ear: Reflections on Christian Caring," in Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin, Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines, 160 ff.). 

Tournier is asked: "Doctors are among the busiest people in our day. It is significant, therefore, that it is a doctor who emphasizes the importance of silence, of meditation. You have practiced meditation constantly for the last fifty years. Why?"

Tournier: "Modern people lack silence. They no longer lead their own lives; they are dragged along by events. It is a race against the clock. I think that what so many people come to see me for is to find a quiet, peaceful person who knows how to listen and who isn't thinking all the time about what he has to do next. If your life is full already, there won't be room for anything else. Even God can't get anything else in. So it becomes essential to cut something out. I'm putting it as simply as I can."

What is "silence?"

Tournier says: "For me, above all, it is a waiting. I wait for God to stimulate my thoughts sufficiently to renew me, to make me creative instead of being what St. Paul calls a tinkling cymbal. It's the cornerstone of my life. It is an attempt at seeing people and their problems from God's point of view, insofar as that is possible."

Get alone and silent today and talk with God.

(On the nature of biblical meditation see here.)