Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Holy Week-Holy Habits 3

"At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place" (Luke 4:42).

One of Jesus' regular spiritual habits is foreign to us--solitude and silence.

When was the last time you actually got away from it all, when you deliberately went to a quiet place in order to be in God's presence?

I admit, it's pretty hard to do in our age. If you have young kids at home, as I do, they constantly make noise and demand your attention. Then at work, with cell phones, pagers, faxes, instant messaging, etc., there are no far off places; we are constantly connected. Rev. David Renwick observes, "We live in an age in which the boundaries of time have been simply cut away from us." Rarely is there time to mull over something. Immediate answers and instant analysis are now the norm.

And yet, all of us need time and space to get away and be refreshed in the Lord. Luke 5:16 tells us, "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Notice the frequency that Jesus got away; he did it often.

Why did Jesus do this? Why should we?

Getting away allows you to monitor what's going on in your soul. The late Henri Nouwen observes, "As soon as we are alone--without people to talk with, books to read, TV to watch, or phone calls to make--an inner chaos opens up in us. The chaos can be so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again." When you get alone in the quiet, you find some ugly things ruminating in your soul.

Getting away allows you to encounter God in a unique way. When Elijah experienced the presence of God, it wasn't through a tornado wind, or rumbling earthquake, or blazing fire, but a gentle whisper. Thomas Merton says, "As soon as you are really alone, you are with God."

Getting away also allows you to receive God's wisdom. Soon after Paul was converted, he spent significant time alone with God--receiving 's apostolic wisdom on the significance of Christ's death and resurrection. "Silence is a fence around wisdom," says a Hebrew proverb.

Back in 2001, while attending the United Church of Christ's General Synod in Kansas City, I was asked to serve as the chaplain in the prayer room. With over 6,000 people at Synod, I thought the room would be pretty busy, but instead, it was dead silent. In 4 1/2 hours, maybe a half dozen people came into the room. None of them needed a chaplain.

At first, the silence was horrifying. Lots of ugly, fearful thoughts passed through my mind. That went on for about two hours. But then, the silence and solitude turned into a blessing. For the last 2 1/2 hours, my heart worshipped the Lord. I relished the silence because it was a gateway to communion. The experience was like bicycling up a mountain. Hard uphill, but easy downhill.

I can't say I've had a 4 1/2 hour block of silence since then (except while sleeping!). But it's been helpful carving out small blocks of time for solitude and silence--before everyone gets up, or after everyone has gone to sleep. Or even going to a special place. I like our church's sanctuary.

Silence and solitude. It has deafening benefits.

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