Book Review: – Invitation to Solitude and Silence – Ruth Haley Barton

silence One disturbing trend I have found in my long study of Spiritual Formation and discipleship is how quickly these ideas can be reduced to a listing of spiritual disciplines or a discussion on spirituality that seems very foreign and inaccessible.

Then someone like Ruth Haley Barton comes along and Spiritual Formation moves away from what normally gets presented. In its place is a life with Jesus that seems absolutely necessary for a truly Christian life. The practice of solitude and silence may be foreign to many people, but Barton explains why it is essential to her life and to every serious Christian.

I don’t know how she does it but her writing is always accessible, down to earth, and doable. She explains through personal experience and quality research, why solitude and silence are so needed. When you read this book, you are left with a glimpse into an inviting world of closeness with God. Solitude and silence may be awkward at first but Barton shows the reader why that awkwardness is worth it in the end.

If your exposure to Christian Spiritual Formation has left you feeling dry or guilty, give this book a try. You will be grateful you did.

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An Unexpected Visitor Arrived During Yesterday’s Lord Supper

 

Something strange happened yesterday during my church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

English: Baptist communion elements

English: Baptist communion elements (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My church is a standard medium sized evangelical church in a “red” state. Silence isn’t usually a part of our worship much less our celebration of Communion. Our church, as do most Baptist churches that I have been a part of, use the time when the bread and juice are passed out for a beautiful instrumental piece or even a reverent solo. Yesterday, there was no music during the delivery of the elements to the congregation.

At first, I didn’t catch this but I did have a sense of something being different. Then, by the time our deacons were receiving their portion, it dawned on me that there was no music. No wonder I seemed to be taking this exercise more seriously. No wonder it seemed that the church as a whole was rapt with attention.

Silence in my church usually comes with nervous clearing of throats and awkward motions in order to break the uncomfortableness of the moment and make it go by faster. I didn’t notice any of this yesterday, maybe I was too focused at the practice at hand. Normally, I would be lost somewhere between my need to concentrate on the sacrifice of Jesus and the distraction of the musical “performance” in front of me. Instead, I was moved to contemplation and reverence and my mind was able to focus on the impact and power of Jesus and his work on the cross on my behalf. It was a refreshing time of worship and participation.

I don’t know if our pastor intended for this to happen (we are in between worship pastors)  but the next time we have the Lord’s Supper and there is music being played in the middle of it, I think I will be wishing for a little more silence.

 

How Solitude And Silence Are Helpful For Repentance

This week’s 23 Thingsfocused on solitude and silence. To illustrate some of the points of these practices, I asked my good friend,

prayer..

prayer.. (Photo credit: aronki)

Hieromonk Alexander, to offer his insight on the subject. Hieromonk Alexander is a priest in the Russian Orthodox Abroad and lives and works at the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, a monastery in rural West Virginia.

Enter Hieromonk Alexander:

Solitude and Silence are valuable tools for every Christian who seeks to withdraw from time to time, or even daily, from the worldly cares which can so easily drown out the still small voice of God. It is important however that we understand these tools theologically so that we benefit from them and don’t simply waste our time – or worse – fall into spiritual delusions that will harm us and our relationship with God.

Following the example of our Lord who “went up on a high mountain to pray, ” Christians from apostolic times have sought out secluded places to pray.

When these early Christians went out to quiet places to pray, removing themselves from the company of men, what exactly did they do? We understand from tradition that they did primarily three things: They prayed fervent prayers of repentance (for we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and by habit of sin we have become spiritually sick with “sinful passions”), they prayed in such a way as to unite their mind to their heart, and they called upon the name of the Lord. When we say that they united their mind with their heart, what do we mean? The mind is often directed outwards – toward circumstances, fearful possibilities, toward the past or the future or perhaps concerns about how other people view us. All these thoughts with their associated emotional and spiritual baggage not only prevent the mind from communing with the heart of a man (the center of his spiritual life and relationship to God), they even send pollution into the heart. When we think unclean thoughts our heart is polluted along with our mind. Inasmuch as we seek in our Christian life a pure heart as we know such a thing is pleasing to God, we seek silence and solitude in order to relieve the mind of the many impressions which it encounters through the five senses. When the mind begins to calm down we can then focus the mind’s attention on our heart, and begin a sincere prayer of repentance. In the Orthodox tradition this prayer usually takes the form of the “Jesus Prayer” which is “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Thus we imitate the early Christians who were taught by Jesus Christ himself to call upon the name of the Lord.

We have as the object of our silence and solitude HEARTFELT AND SINCERE PRAYER. And by such prayer we hope to call down upon ourselves, without hysteria or manufactured emotion, the grace filled energies of God. One short attempt at silence in solitude will only be frustrating for us. When we first begin to be silent and alone, we can have various reactions. Some become disturbed, feeling the impulse to call someone or check their email of make lists. It can take time and a lot of effort to become used to silence and solitude. If we persevere in this effort and understand our goal properly, these tools can be transformative for every Christian who seeks to purify his heart and please the Lord.

23 Things – Week 2: Solitude and Silence

Week 2: Solitude and Silence

3. Read this article on solitude and silence.

4. Embrace pockets of solitude and silence today. Here are some ideas. Choose what works for you. Every time you find a pocket of solitude and silence, ask God to be with you in a special way.

  • Leave the car radio off while you drive
  • Take a walk around your work place during lunch
  • Limit TV watching to no more than one hour
  • Start a meal with everyone silent. Then have someone read a chapter from Mark before beginning speaking.
  • Park farther away from your intended location to give yourself more time to reflect while you walk.
  • Replay before falling asleep the day’s  events  and notice where God has been present.

This is week two of 23 Things. See last week’s post for the first two things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

Let Him Hear: Reading Revelation For Spiritual Growth #6

I have two observations from reading Revelation 8:

1. When the Lamb breaks the seal there is silence in heaven for 30 minutes. Silence is jolting; silence can take your breath away; silence leaves you helpless. I imagine the silence felt was like the silence after Jesus calmed the storm or the silence Elijah heard on Mt. Horeb after the wind, earthquake, and fire passed him by. This kind of silence is not one that takes you by surprise but one that envelopes you and one that you will never forget. Silence in heaven, who would have thought?

2. The prayers of the saints mixed with the incense of heaven filled the golden altar and went up in front of God. Whether or not this is how our prayers are always handled by God is not really the point. What is meaningful to me is how our prayers are a part of the heavenly environment. With incense you can often see it burning, you can smell it, and you can sometimes feel the smoke. I imagine the prayers of the saints being visible in some way, being felt in some way, and even being smelled in some way. Maybe I am being too mystical but this whole image of our prayers filling the area around the throne of God is somehow comforting to me and makes me want to make my prayers more heartfelt and meaningful.

Apprenticeship With Jesus: Day 22

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book, including excerpts, can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 22: If God is So Smart, Why Am I Doing All The Talking

–  People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to.

– We best hear God through knowing him

– God’s redemptive work involves communication, communion, and union

My wife and I will occasionally have those moments when we say exactly what each other are thinking. Our inside joke when this happens is to melodramatically quote a line from the late ’70s version of Superman, “Can you read my mind?” The answer to that overly sentimental question is yes. We have a unique connection that allows us on occasion be able to think in complete synchronicity. I don’t have that connection with everyone because I don’t know them as well as my wife knows me and I know her. So, the statement in this chapter about hearing God through knowing God makes perfect sense to me. I must have a deeper understanding of God in order to be able to hear from him consistently.

Apprentice Activity: Listening To The Voice of God

–  Spend some time in silence

–   Ask God, “What do you think of me?” and then, “What would you like for us to do today?”

– If you hear a response ask two questions: Did I hear a good shepherd or a loud cattle driver? and Was the emotional impact of hearing from God one of the fruits of the spirit.”

– Read Colossians 3: 1-17 and then ponder verse 8 – But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

I did this exercise after I jogged in my neighborhood. When asking the first set of questions, I was struck by the level of green that was before me and how the green of the grass and trees went so perfectly with the blue of the sky. I thought about how God designed his creation to work just right with all of its parts. This made me think that God created me to work just right with him and his purposes and plans. And when I surrender myself, and let Christ into every part of my being then I will experience a profound connection with him.

What is Jesus teaching me? Silence and solitude teaches me all of the many ways that I seek to distance myself from God. Through silence, I am seeking out a place where there is very little between me and God. Silence is an excavation to find my heart in its truest form, not covered in distractions and falseness. Silence is the process of laying my heart at the altar of God and letting God go to work.

Are you afraid of silence? What benefits do you think would come from more silence in your life?

Apprenticeship To Jesus: Day 21

For Lent, I am walking us through a book called Apprenticeship With Jesus. You can follow along by reading my highlights and reflections. Extensive previews of the book, including excerpts, can be found through Google Books and Amazon, as well as eBook purchasing options.

Day 21: The Solace of Solitude

–  “There is a sense in which the secret to Jesus’ ministry is hidden in the lonely places where he goes to pray – often before dawn” – Henri Nouwen

– In the lonely place – Jesus finds the courage to follow God’s will and not his own; to speak God’s words and not his own; to do God’s work and not his own

– “It is in silence that I have heard most clearly God’s life-giving whispers of love and experienced most deeply a sense of identity as God’s beloved.”

One of the things that surprised me about Jesus was how often he retreated by himself to pray (Ref. Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, 6:46, Luke 5:16). If there was anyone who could get a pass on their daily quiet time it would be Jesus; but we see him, often while it is still dark, spending time in prayer. He often was so removed that his disciples had to go look for him. What a great lesson for us. Jesus’ time with his father was his power supply for his ministry. He needed time alone in prayer and listening to God in order to live out his mission to the broken and hurting of this world. Wouldn’t I benefit from a few moments alone with God. What kind of difference would that bring to my work, family, and life?

Apprentice Activity: Silent Movie and Minutes

–  Watch the documentary Into Great Silence

–   Spend time pondering 1 Kings 19: 11-12 – Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

I stumbled across this documentary last January through our Netflix account and watched it through their instant access. In the documentary, all you watch are the days and nights of a Carthusian monestary in the French Alps. There is no narration and since the monks do not talk except for designated times, there is very little dialogue to follow. You are simply watching these monks as they pray, worship, and work. It is not for the faint of heart. I “watched” it during my morning workout over a weeks time. I don’t know anyone who could watch this at its two hour plus length without falling asleep. Maybe that is part of the point of the movie. It is a kind of litmus test to where our heart is. Lauren Winner shows it to one of her classes at Duke Divinity School and she states that her students get angry about the film. I guess silence isn’t always welcomed.

What is Jesus teaching me? Through this study and through watching another documentary entitled Be Still, I am learning to spend more time listening to God. So much is said about prayer, as in the request variety, but very little is said about listening for the voice of God. I am trying to be more intentional in making space to listen to God.

Do you talk at God but fail to listen to him? Would you even know how to go about listening to God?