Friday, May 28, 2010

Solitude & Silence

(My shadow, in my back yard)

Thomas Merton wrote: "Someone has to try to keep his head clear of static and preserve the interior solitude and silence that are essential for independent thought." (Faith and Violence)

I am approaching thirty years of increasing solitude and silence. I try not to judge my life by output, but I would say that relevant, creative life-output is in direct proportion to increasing solitude and silence (S&S). S&S are the wellspring of creativity. S&S situate a person in the interior desert from which righteous introspection happen. S&S provide the environment for authentic self-evaluation that, with God's assistance, produce genuine inner transformation. And such inner transformation is what it's all about, as opposed to the hypocrisy of the external extreme makeover.

In times of S&S we get to breathe clean air once more, clear our senses, clarify our purposes. It was said of Gandhi that he took one day a week off to accomplish two things: 1) rest his vocal chords; and 2) collect his thoughts.

S&S do not require literal desert places, though they are nice and quite helpful. This is because true S&S are conditions of the heart, and can be found whereve one is physically. I know this personally to be true, having taken many hours a week in solitude and silence over a period of thirty years. S&S are the twin trees planted in the oasis of the soul that draws from the river of God.

Contemplatives like Merton attest that S&S is different from "R&R" in the sense that S&S are to be the foundational background that hums unceasingly, and out of which true discernment grows. Personally I think a lot of people need a real vacation after their physical vacation. S&S can provide this daily.

Our world does not value S&S. Busyness is valued, and of busyness there is no end. Busyness's operative is: to be busy. Always. Hence, the massive irrelevancy of the "busy life," which is a life that is to be always "filled up" with "things to do."

One day in the early 1980s I was walking across the campus of Michigan State University feeling lost in regard to my doctoral dissertation (Northwestern U.). I saw a friend who was an MSU professor. "How are you today?" he asked. "I'm struggling with my dissertation. I don't know what to do and where to go with it. I can't see the forest for the trees." His immediate counsel to me was: "Take two weeks away from it. Then, come back." Initially this seemed ridiculous, a break I could not afford to take. Yet something also seemed right, especially coming from this scholar and friend. So I took two weeks off. I did not attend to the dissertation. Yet, in the absence of directly working on it, thoughts began to bubble up inside me. I wrote them in my journal. The game plan was being given to me in the silence and abstinence.

In the same way solitude and silence are God-gifts to bring healing, well-being, joy, perspective, creativity, strength, and hope. Out of them come relevant telic activity. The psalmist never counseled us to "Be busy, and know that I am God."