Abba Poemen said: “A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent.” – The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (page 47)
I missed something in my first reading through this book. When I hear or read the word silence I think absence of noise or absence of words. Nouwen want us to consider that, but his definition of silence is different. He wants us to consider silence of the heart. I think I have experienced what he is trying to describe, and it is very hard to put into words. The best example is probably a negative one.
When I am angry my tendency is to go silent, to not speak. I may even withdraw. However, I am not silent in the sense that Nouwen is trying to communicate. My heart is not quiet. My heart is hurt and too often determined to hurt someone else. The most typical hurt is that I am not getting my way. Every thought and the determination of my heart is to win. God’s desire is for me to be at peace and I am preparing for war.
What I am seeking through the disciplines of solitude and silence is the silence of the heart.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7 ESV)
We must make certain that we are connected to God. It is His peace which will serve as a guard over our hearts and minds. That leads to the second point of this section.
Hence, the question that must guide all organizing activity in a parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence. – The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (page 47)
The only way we seem to be able to battle the temptations of the world we live in is to over schedule ourselves so we don’t have time to get into trouble. This is certainly the message being communicated to parents. If you don’t want your child to start doing drugs, then get them involved in as many activities as possible. There are many positive activities and much to be said for the skills and relationships built in them. Where do children learn to be quiet? Have we, as adults, been so programmed for activity that we have no idea how to be quiet ourselves?
What if we encouraged people to connect with God and then did less as a church to give them time to pursue that? What if we trusted the Holy Spirit working in their lives to lead them into new relationships with those who don’t know God? If their hearts were truly quiet, then they would have something valuable to share with neighbors who are caught up in the clamor of the world we live in.