The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. (Habakkuk 2:20 NIV)
Silence is the way to make solitude a reality. – The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (page 29)
This isn’t about lack of noise. The silence Nouwen is speaking about is the absence of words, the discipline of not speaking. I know this is an important discipline and I’m struggling to learn it. I wake up each morning wanting to talk and my wife does not.
James has much to say about the tongue and our difficulty in controlling it. When I’m afraid I might say something I will later regret I go silent. This is generally in the middle of a conflict and my silence does not help in moving toward resolution. If I routinely practiced the discipline of silence, would I learn to control my tongue so that I could speak helpful words in the middle of conflict? I think that’s what Nouwen is going to argue.
One final note on solitude. Jesus final command was to go and make disciples. How do I make disciples if I withdraw from people?
As he begins his investigation of silence, Nouwen notes that we are inundated with words. He originally wrote the book in 1981 and I’m sure he couldn’t imagine then that the avalanche of words could get worse. My brother notes years ago that it is too easy to write and publish a book now. Authors fill page after page with words and it takes significant effort to distill from that the one or maybe two useful thoughts in those thousands of words.
The word no longer communicates, no longer fosters communion, no longer creates community, and therefore no longer gives life. The word no longer offers trustworthy ground on which people can meet each other and build society. – by Henri Nouwen in The Way of the Heart (page 32)
I am encouraged by this comment as it recognizes the need for community. Nouwen concludes this section by noting that spiritual formation has been disconnected from the Word by our constant debates over words.
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1Timothy 6:3-5 ESV)
It seems to me that Paul’s instruction to Timothy could have been written today about the blogosphere and social media. I’m adding to the problem by writing these thoughts down. I crave input and the discipline of silence may be the most difficult for me. I do want to hear the Word (Jesus) and I need to consider that this may mean taking in less words and not more.