Julie and I love to bicycle and I notice that many people we pass that are walking, running, and bicycling have headphones or earbuds on listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, and even watching videos. The fact that they cannot hear us warning them that we are approaching and passing them does make it a bit dangerous and scares many of them when we go past them on our bikes.
These experiences have made me reflect back on my younger days downhill skiing in Califonia’s Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe. A coworker and good friend Greg and I would meet early in the morning on the weekends and drive up to Kirkwood Ski Area arriving well before the chair lifts started running so that we could be ready to start skiing when they opened at 8:30 am. Part of our ski equipment in those days was Sony Walkman tape players and pockets full of tapes and rechargeable batteries. We would ski to 70’s rock until lunchtime when the lines for the lifts got too long and then head home. When we first came to Minnesota in 1990 I would go skiing and having headphones had the added benefit of keeping my ears warm. After a while, I stopped wearing headphones and listening to music and started to enjoy skiing listening to the sounds of nature around me.
This has continued through the years and I never plug into music while out walking, cross country skiing, bicycling, or any other outdoor activity. It has become a time to disconnect from the noise of our modern life and be immersed in the present.
The interesting thing is, the more I get used to silence in my life the more I desire and seek it. I would like to think it is a process of my spiritual life maturing, but part of me thinks it is just part of getting older. I do believe that silence is a tool that God can use to bring us closer to God and connect more fully with God’s beautiful creation.
How does one get comfortable with silence? It is a process of slow adaptation. I would suggest turning off the TV, radio, MP3 player, or phone for 30 minutes during the day so that you are left with a time of silence. Driving in the car can be a good source of silent time by simply turning off the radio. I did this many Lents ago, and it has become a habit and something I look forward to. Bicycle riding or walking is also a good time of silence for me. If you have the TV on in the house for background noise, consider turning it off for a block of time during the day. Of course, a dedicated time of prayer with some silent time in it is truly wonderful.
The toughest thing about silence is that you have to get comfortable with yourself because your thoughts will not be distracted and in the beginning, the flood of thoughts will be a bit overwhelming. Just ask God to help you deal with them and let them pass. I find that my time of prayer with scripture in the morning helps to fuel productive silent time as it allows me to mull over the scriptures I prayed with and God provides some interesting insights. I truly believe that having silence be part of our day helps us live the greatest commandments as Jesus taught us:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Time in silence helps us develop a greater love for God and also of ourselves as we recognize the great love God has for us.
My favorite Old Testament scripture comes from the first book of Kings when Elijah is sent out to wait for the presence of God.
“Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
This scripture reveals a great truth, that the presence of God is not typically found in the loud and spectacular events of life but in the quiet events going on around us 24/7. If we are plugged in and distracted by noise we will walk right past the presence of God all around us and never notice it.
Peace, Love, and Blessings