A Pandemic of Noise: By Prasanta Verma

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure,” writes Henri Nouwen.

In silence, in the desert places, words develop a skeleton, flesh, and bone. Wandering in the wilderness, words develop greater fullness and depth. Faith grows a stronger backbone and a fresh set of wings. Our spirits flourish with greater sensitivity and nuances of understanding. A cacophony of endless words is meaningless; meaning grows out of the silence from listening in quiet, lonely, spaces.

By quiet, lonely spaces I am not necessarily referring to physical spaces, but those thin and empty places in our lives marked by loss, grief, pain, and suffering. Were it not for the silence of those places, I may not have learned or appreciated the full meaning of those words and the full meaning of their opposites. Indeed, joy is much better understood when underscored by seasons of grief. Health is enjoyed more deeply after seasons of illness. The opposites, the pain that I (and maybe you) want to run far away from, is often the very circumstance that teaches me.

So few in our world are prone to listening, yet we truly learn in the silence of listening from each other. Is it any wonder we talk past each other in political discourse, then? We speak too much and listen less. This is no different in our daily lives, too. In my conversations with neighbors and acquaintances, fewer people ask questions of the other. We are too busy, unavailable, judgmental, or self-centered. No wonder we ebb and flow in a sea of longing and loneliness.

Nouwen writes,

It is not easy to enter into the silence and reach beyond the many boisterous and demanding voices of our world and to discover there the small intimate voice saying: ‘You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests.’

We are living in an era where the daily barrage of boisterous news and continuous flow of information is almost like an insult to our systems. We are bombarded, and I can’t help but wonder that we need silence all the more. Eden was not a noisy place, I surmise. I imagine serenity, beauty, and the sounds of water and wildlife. What voices were speaking there in Eden, but of God speaking to His creation and of His creation speaking back? Yet today, the more prevalent voice is creation speaking to itself, or rather, screaming in blaring voices, all the time, all around us, so there is no escape. Are we hearing the voice of the One who calls us Beloved, amidst all the other voices? 

We are living in a pandemic of noise, silence is the treatment, and Christ in heaven is the cure.

***

Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

 

 

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Hello and welcome to Friday Favorites! This week, the links that Prasanta Verma and I chose take us from prayer and reflection through silence, a bit of church history, and the redeeming power of art. A few of these are on the long side, longer than what we usually share — one is a full-length film! But they’re worth a deep dive to bring some beauty, wonder, and joy to your day.

Enjoy, and be blessed.

***

Praying: An Invitation to Silence via Andō (Andō shares a meditative poem from Mary Oliver)

In Pursuit of Silence via Patrick Shen (this film on silence is screening free during this pandemic time — so restorative for the soul)

Reading Hope in Trying Times, with Parker Palmer via Writing For Your Life (Parker Palmer shares about the lessons of depression and hope)

Permission to Ponder via Chris Alford and Tracy Balzer (Balzer encourages us with the beauty of creation as seen through the lens of Celtic Christianity)

The Nuns Who Wrote Poems via Nick Ripatrazone (get a taste of some divine poetry from literary nuns)

The Soul in Paraphrase via Joy Clarkson and Matthew Rothaus Moser (in this podcast episode, Moser explores transforming love in the poetry of Dante, a wonderful guide for our pilgrimage through life)

 

 

 

My Sunday With the Quakers: A Guest Post from Traci Rhoades

This week, I’m happy to feature a guest post from writer and blogger Traci Rhoades. Traci’s new book, Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost, just came out; it’s a memoir about going to church and mostly about finding common faith ground in the midst of our differences. Christian unity is such a worthwhile topic to explore right now!

Traci’s post features a subject we’ve discussed many times at The Contemplative Writer: silence. Some historical forms of prayer, such as centering prayer, involve sitting in silence with God. Below, Traci writes about how she came across an entire church service service that met her “deep hunger” for silence. I invite you to savor Traci’s words and maybe to think about where in your own life you’ve encountered God in moments of silence.

***

Never in my entire evangelical existence has my church family sat in silence for sixty minutes. In fact, I recall only one time of silence during any worship service and that was because someone missed her cue. The staff heard about it on Monday morning.

That’s how the Quakers do it though, or so I’d been told. Months earlier, an online friend put me in touch with Jason, a “Friend” in the Quaker sense. He attended unprogrammed services (a time of silent waiting for the Spirit) on the campus of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. After a few messages back and forth Jason encouraged me to visit when I had an opportunity to do so. They meet on Sunday mornings so it would need to be a time when I didn’t have any obligations at my own church.

A snowy day last December showed itself to be the right time. Surprisingly, my daughter agreed to attend with me. We asked another friend of ours, who asked a friend of hers. The four of us met up on the Catholic college campus to attend the Quaker service.

At first we weren’t sure we were in the right place, until a man rode up on his bicycle and put the sign in the ground by the front steps. The Friends Meeting was in session. A nice man greeted us at the door and asked us to sign the guest book. He assured us they frequently have guests. We took our places in the roughly-formed circle of about twenty individuals, and promptly at 10am, silence fell upon us.

Rhoades blog post
What do you do for sixty minutes of silence? The Spirit didn’t prompt anyone to talk the entire time. I took my prayer rope out of my purse and prayed the Jesus Prayer. I offered up lots of intercessory prayer, for individuals God brought to mind and for each person seated around that circle. I sung a few hymns in my head. I wondered what other people were thinking about. A prominent thought kept popping into my head, you could never leave from here angry. Pacifism came to mind. Quakers are pacifists, correct? My daughter sat pretty still for the first fifteen minutes or so. After that, she fidgeted off and on. The few times I caved and made eye contact with her, she mouthed the words, “how much longer?”

We made it. After the service of silence, we went around the circle and gave our names. When it came time for my daughter to give her name, she gave a made up one. I asked her why and she said, “I wasn’t going to give a roomful of strangers my name.”

After going around the circle giving our first names, a man asked why we don’t divulge our full names. It occurred to me I knew this one. “If we’re a circle of friends, we’re on a first name basis.”

Afterward I talked with my contact, Jason, some more. He shared with me he’d grown up United Methodist. He missed the music offered in a more traditional worship service the most. I thought for the 3,017th time, why can’t a worship service offer it all?

Following this experience I read a couple books I had on my bookshelf, written by Quakers. One author is a Quaker pastor, certain branches of this church tradition do have clergy. In The Same, but Different, Phil Baisley explains that moments of silence are part of every Quaker gathering. “When Friends gather for worship, no matter whether a pastor is present, they are gathering with Christ to worship God in spirit and in truth.” Indeed, this extends to business meetings, classroom settings and basically every conversation a Friend has with another human being.

I enjoyed my first unprogrammed service and will attend again. The people were kind and encouraging, but I left feeling as if I hadn’t gone to Sunday church. Was that a programmed response or do I personally need more? It’s hard to say when you’ve only visited one Sunday.

In Brent Bill’s book Holy Silence, he paints a vivid picture of how God has spoken in moments of silence throughout his lifetime; on Sunday mornings, in his home, at weddings, when he leads moments of holy silence at ecumenical services in their vacation town. There’s more to corporate silence I need to explore. Bill writes, “The deep silence of the soul is our Eucharist.” Maybe that explains my deep hunger for silence. I am thirsty for a word from the Spirit. I love the idea of Him speaking corporately in communion of another kind. The Quakers are teaching me. We need each other. We really do.

 

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Friday Favorites is back after a break last week. Prasanta Verma and I are glad you’re with us!

This week our links begin with a lectio divina exercise and end with a message of hope for our fallen world. In between are some beautiful, difficult, and necessary posts about spiritual crisis, exile, and healing racial wounds.

Read, be encouraged, and be blessed.

***

Daily Lectio Divina: A Broken Prayer via Laura K. Cavanaugh (a lectio divina exercise using the poetry of George MacDonald)

I Can’t Talk My Way Out of Every Spiritual Crisis via Ed Cyzewski (finding presence and comfort in silence– not more words)

The Immigrants’ Daughter via Nichole Woo (sharing, remembering, and living sojourner stories)

Healing the Scars of Racial Wounds via Heidi Wheeler (encouragement for showing up ready to love, listen, and learn)

It’s Like in the Great Stories, Mr. Frodo via Madelyn Canada (what Tolkien teaches us about living in a fallen world–and not giving up on hope)

 

Friday Favorites for Prayer and Writing

Welcome to Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up links that really struck us and that we’d like to share with you. We hope they will add to your writing and spiritual life. Without further ado…

Prasanta’s picks —

Postmarked via Shawn Smucker and Jen Pollock Michel (it began as a Twitter conversation but developed into a series of letters between two writers, navigating the terrain of creative work and family life)

How to Write Compelling Articles That Get Read and Shared via Nicole Bianchi (5 steps to crafting compelling articles)

“Birthday Poem for Roma Cady MacPherson Wilson 2 January 2019, aetatis suae XV” via Anthony Madrid (a stunning poem in Curator Magazine)

***

Lisa’s picks —

Rhythms That Return Us to Ourselves via Marlena Graves (returning to “our senses,” or to the rhythms that once sustained and can still sustain us)

On Feeling Afraid and Finding the Edge via Kelly Chripczuk (on the subtle sway of fear)

Year of Pilgrimage – to be a pilgrim in Britain’s Green and Pleasant Land via Bess Twiston Davies (the year 2020 has been decreed the “Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimages” by the Association of English Cathedrals. Read about the continuing popularity of the practice of pilgrimage!)

 

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Each Friday I share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, or just “be” better, I’ll include it below.

This week’s highlights: learning to sniff, laugh, walk, stare into space, and network…among other things.

Be blessed!

*****

How silence stopped terrifying me, and started healing me via Anna O’Neil (letting silence heal us of our deepest wounds)

His Fresh Mercy via Ray Hollenbach (sniffing out God’s new mercies each day)

The Medicine Of Laughter via Lee Blum (when freedom feels like belly laughter!)

The Poetry of Liturgy via W. David O. Taylor (poetry as a way of accessing the heart of a people)

Writers Who Walk via Jane Davis (read excerpts from writers for whom walking is part of the creative process)

On Networking: Live-Blogging Jane Friedman’s _The Business of Being a Writer_ via Yi Shun Lai (good thoughts on what networking for writers really means)

*****

Keep the Contemplative Writer Sustainable

The Contemplative Writer is ad-free and never shares sponsored content, but it is a lot of work to maintain. We rely on affiliate links from the books we share and the generous donations of our readers. Even a gift of $5 goes a long way to sustaining our mission to provide contemplative prayer resources for our readers.

Learn how your support can keep this website running: Support Us Today

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to this week’s Friday Favorites, where I share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, or just “be” better, I’ll include it below.

Do you have someone else’s article or post to share? Join the Contemplative Writers Facebook group, comment on today’s post on my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

As you read/listen to these posts/podcasts — be blessed. And be a blessing.

*****

Parker J. Palmer: Penetrating Illusions–On the Brink of Everything via Lisa Colón Delay (in this Spark My Muse podcast episode, Lisa interviews Parker Palmer on the art of listening, living with our shadow sides, the function of contemplation, and more)

Why God Loves Weddings, Families and Good Black Preaching via Patricia Raybon (how can the royal wedding help us move forward in healing, forgiveness, and love?)

“Just Become Yourself”: A Bad Line from a Disney Movie or the Wisest Counsel of All? via Chuck DeGroat (a spirituality of becoming, the beginning of a lifelong journey)

Concentrate! And don’t concentrate! via Simon Parke (I’m intrigued by this — we’re told to and sometimes need to focus; but when does concentration take us away from awareness?)

Befriending Silence via Kyle J. A. Small (on our need for reconciling silence in worship, communion and community, and relationships)

How to Inspire Your Writing (and Your Life) Every Day via Margarita Tartakovsky (writing is work, yes–but what sparks your heart, mind, and soul to do this work?)

*****

Keep the Contemplative Writer Sustainable

The Contemplative Writer is ad-free and never shares sponsored content, but it is a lot of work to maintain. We rely on affiliate links from the books we share and the generous donations of our readers. Even a gift of $5 goes a long way to sustaining our mission to provide contemplative prayer resources for our readers.

Learn how your support can keep this website running: Support Us Today

GUEST POST: An Excerpt from Flee, Be Silent, Pray by Ed Cyzewski

Flee be silent pray cover ebook final copyToday, I’m excited to offer an excerpt from Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer, a new book by Ed Cyzewski, founder of The Contemplative Writer. Ed’s book released this week.

In the excerpt below, Ed explains why solitude, rather than more information and more effort, might be a good place to start when struggle, burn out, or crisis occurs. I know you’ll appreciate the wisdom he offers here.

*****

A spiritual struggle, burn out, or breakdown in my conservative Christian tradition is often treated with more information. The assumption is that you forgot something, never learned it, or distorted the information in the first place, despite your best efforts. I remember worrying that my own sincerity or grasp of the information didn’t click. If I could just line up the right information with the proper mental outlook, things would finally fall into place. This is why so many young evangelicals struggle with sin and then pray the sinner’s prayer again (and again) or rededicate their lives to God.

The sentiment is admirable, as we can all relate to wanting to grow spiritually or getting on the right path, but such an approach to spiritual transformation remains more or less in our control and fails to proceed beyond a confession of faith. Professing our faith and commitment to Christ is certainly a good place to start, but it’s hardly what mature, growing followers of Jesus need.

Solitude isn’t my cure-all that guarantees a vibrant spiritual life, but it has become a vital refuge that saves me from my own inadequate remedies and faulty illusions of myself and others. Nouwen speaks of solitude as the furnace of transformation. “Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self” (The Way of the Heart 25). I can think of no better thing for anxious evangelicals who have come to the limits of personal effort and knowledge. Entering solitude with open hands can free us to receive whatever God will give us. I have often gone into solitude with my own plans and agenda.

I’m not naturally comfortable with mystery, especially with a mysterious God, after dedicating so much time to theological study. Solitude strips away the script that theology can provide for God. In silence before God alone, I am forced to surrender any scripture verses that I may be tempted to manipulate in my moment of need, as if I could trap God by using his own words against him. I can only surrender to the mystery of God in the silence.

There are deep mysteries to God’s love and presence, and solitude is one of the ways I have inched closer to them. What I know of God’s love and presence feels very much like drops of water from a limitless stream. What we’ve come to believe and trust may crumble to dust in the pursuit of solitude. This is just as well. Any illusions or false conceptions of ourselves or of God will crumble eventually regardless.

Solitude allows us to preemptively expose these illusions before they let us down in the midst of a crisis. In solitude, we “die” to ourselves so that God can raise us up. Nouwen wrote, “In solitude, our heart can slowly take off its many protective devices, and can grow so wide and deep that nothing human is strange to it” (Out of Solitude 45).

*****

The desert fathers and mothers saw solitude as a way to replace martyrdom when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. In his introduction to the spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers, John Chryssavgis writes, “The voice of the desert’s heart replaced the voice of the martyr’s blood. And the Desert Fathers and Mothers became witnesses of another way, another Kingdom” (In the Heart of the Desert 17).

There was no surer way to strip away what they depended on in place of God. This was a kind of “death” for them that lead to new life. They sought the union with Christ that Paul spoke of (1 Corinthians 6:17; Romans 8:9-11) and set aside every possible distraction. Nouwen assures us that “solitude molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own great sinfulness and so fully aware of God’s even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry” (The Way of the Heart 37).

Flee, Be Silent, Pray is available now, $2.99 as an eBook, $9.99 for print:
Kindle | Print | iBooks | Kobo | B&N
Download a Sample Chapter Here

Ed Cyzewski Author Cafe Square

 

Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival GuideFlee, Be Silent, PrayPray, Write, Grow; and other books. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com and is on Twitter at @edcyzewski.

 

 

Contemplative Profiles: Thomas Merton

This month’s contemplative profile by historian Lisa Deam is Thomas Merton:

In several of his written works, Thomas Merton explores the idea of the spiritual life as a journey. While we may like to envision our path as being clearly laid out and free of obstruction, Merton realizes that in reality we’re often groping in the dark. He highlights one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith—we travel, sometimes blindly, to a destination that we already possess. His reflections on life’s journey offer hope as we take the road to Bethlehem this Advent season.

*****

“In one sense we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense we have already arrived. We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and are dwelling in the light. But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!” (The Seven Storey Mountain)

*****

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” (Thoughts in Solitude)

*****

Reflection: Where am I on my journey with God today?

 

About Lisa Deam

Lisa Deam writes and speaks about Christian spiritual formation from a historical perspective. She’s the author of A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps. Visit her on Twitter @LisaKDeam and at lisadeam.com.

 

Contemplative Profiles: Thomas Merton

This month’s contemplative profile by historian Lisa Deam is Thomas Merton:

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, a beloved modern contemplative, and a prolific writer. He left us many books and essays on the spiritual life. When I read Merton, I’m especially struck by the way he confronts and even embraces the difficulties of living the Christian life. Following Jesus is not easy, and Merton knows this. His frank admission of his struggles ministers to us in our own.

Regarding his internal struggles and contradictions, Merton writes:

*****

“I have become convinced that the very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me: if only because someone so complicated and so prone to confusion and self-defeat could hardly survive for long without special mercy.” (A Thomas Merton Reader)

*****

“Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings . . . All life tends to grow like this, in mystery inscaped with paradox and contradiction, yet centered, in its very heart, on the divine mercy . . . and the realization of the ‘new life’ that is in us who believe, by the gift of the Holy Spirit. “ (A Thomas Merton Reader)

*****

Such paradoxes define the life of faith. About each person’s struggle with both internal and external darkness, Merton says:

*****

“Those who continue to struggle are at peace. If God wills, they can pacify the world.  For he[/she] who accepts the struggle in the name of Christ is delivered from its power by the victory of Christ.” (A Thomas Merton Reader)

*****

Read more about Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

Reflection

How willing am I to embrace and learn from the contradictions and struggles in my spiritual life?

 

About Lisa Deam

Lisa Deam writes and speaks about Christian spiritual formation from a historical perspective. She’s the author of A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps. Visit her on Twitter @LisaKDeam and at lisadeam.com.