There’s a quote that hangs in my sunroom:
“Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God”.
But what of those times when you are silent and yet there is no whisper of God to be heard? What of the sense of betrayal your heart feels? What of the desperation and despair your heart is left to sink into? What of the awful inner voices unleashed in the presence of the silence? What of the turmoil that knocks you off your feet while you’re standing on holy ground? What of the heaviness of your sins that weighs you down, pressing your knees even further into the floor as you gaze up at the figure of Jesus hanging there on the cross in the pain that you inflicted on him? What of the silence that cuts your heart open more than the chaos of daily living?
I attended a silent retreat last weekend. I went with great anticipation of a peaceful rejuvenating experience. But as I left, peace eluded me and yet gratefulness for the experience washed over my soul.
I entered the hushed halls of the spiritual retreat and my soul breathed a sigh of relief on that Friday night. Peace was there to be found but not an ocean of peace like I had expected. Instead peace came in fragments, just enough to keep me searching, keep me present in the silence.
I pleaded with God for just a breath of His presence to enfold me if even for a brief moment. When my heart woke me at 0400 each morning, was it my inner restlessness or was it the invitation of the Spirit moving over me in my room? When leaves danced in front of me as I walked in silence, might it have been the passing of the breath of God? When the wind sighed through the pines, was it God moving through nature telling me he was here? When the sun shone bright on my face, was it the presence of God inviting my soul into his warmth?
As the turmoil increased in the wake of the silence I entered into, my instinct response was anger with God. How dare he be silent when I had intentionally put aside time wherein to seek his face? Where was he now that I was sitting in silence asking him to reveal himself to me? Was he not interested in me and the desires of my heart? Didn’t his heart ache for me and the pain I was feeling ever increasingly while in the silence? If he couldn’t honor my silence, would he react to my anger that dared him to reveal himself to me? Where was his promise to remember me as a mother remembers her child?
The question was asked, “what is it that you are so afraid of?”. And in that moment I heard a voice say, “Come”. “Come sit with Me. Come and learn of my grace. Come and be, just be in My presence.”
I recoiled in fear. “I can’t come and sit in Your presence, Jesus. I am too unworthy. I am too unlovable. I have rejected You too often; You can’t possibly want to get to know me!”
At the close of the weekend, I sat in silence and listened to the prayer of Psalm 46 be read over me in blessing, in Lectio Divina. And once again, the word “Come” gripped me and something within my reluctant heart broke in response to the gentle, relentless invitation.
Again another question was asked of me, “If you were in a season of being able to pray and converse with God, what is that you most desire of him; what is it that you would ask of him?” My answer from the heart was instant – “Peace even amid this turmoil, this season of pain I am in presently”. The peace that comes of knowing that he is patient with me. He won’t disown me in this time of my anger at him, my reluctance to draw near to him in intimacy. The kind of peace that invades the questions and doubts ripping my soul wide open. Peace that flows through me like a river in this desert time of wandering. Peace that enfolds me tenderly in the struggle.
The silence of the weekend seemed to unleash the turmoil of the soul typically kept at bay through the chaos of daily living. And in the shouts of that silence, I felt betrayed by the One whose face I seek. But yet in gratitude I look upon that time of silence as a way of awakening within me a need to practice the spiritual discipline of expectant silence in the Presence of God. For the Intimate One of my soul cannot break his promise of being found by those who are sincere in seeking his Presence.