Themes for The Great Silence:
Silence, rest, and sleep
Darkness, trust, and protection
Personal sorrow, completion, intimacy
It is the end of the day. You are about to lay down and sleep. Tomorrow will come, like all the days before it, and it, like all the others, will bring its own labors, struggles, and challenges. While most of us spend the time before bed thinking only of what the morning brings, the last pause in our exploration of the Seven Sacred Pauses calls us to one of the most valuable practices.
The practice of The Great Silence.
The Great Silence is a time for peaceful reflection; it is the time to reflect on all that our day has brought and on how we have walked through it. Now is the time for authentic self-evaluation, forgiveness, and peace. Before letting your head hit the pillow, rather than running through task after task and then just jumping straight into sleep-mode, ask yourself a couple of questions. Ask yourself:
- “Were my efforts this day aligned with my hearts deepest yearning for grace-filled living?”
- “Did I faithfully follow the path of love, integrity, and grace?”
- “Have I put the love of people before my own ideas of success?”
- “Have I paid attention to God in all aspects of my day, or have I gotten distracted by work and achievement?”
- “Is there something I need to seek forgiveness for from God or others? Do I need to forgive myself?”
- “What part of this day is knocking at my mind waiting for me to pay attention to it?”
Wherever you find yourself in this, it is important to give it as much authenticity and as much loving grace as you can offer. Work to find “Gratitude for the blessings of the day, and compassion for the discouragements of the day” (Macrina Wiederkehr: Seven Sacred Pauses). In The Great Silence, before I close the chapter on today, I take a moment to offer all that I have done and how I have done it, successes and failures, spiritual victories and each sinful moment, I give all as a gift to the one who receives it with joy.
I give good, bad, and the in-between ALL to the one who can take each of them and make them holy.
ALL to the one who looks at me and all my actions with
Some of us fear this as we all feared the dark when we were children (or as we still do!). With the practice of The Great Silence, I learn to put away my fear of the night and my reluctance to enter the silence. So many people have issues with silence, with dark, and with the lack of accomplishment that resting brings. We praise people who work from 4:00 am to midnight as if poor self-care is admirable for the sake of “achievement.” Prior to the industrial revolution and the addition of electricity, people were much more comfortable with silence, with stillness, and with the idea of doing nothing. They knew that the dawn would bring a full day’s hard labor like all days do, but they had the wisdom to counterbalance this work with rest: rest for your body, rest for your mind, and rest for your heart and soul.
All of us sleep, but very few of us actually REST.
Let me remind you that God rested. In fact, ancient Jews would argue that our identity was not found in what we did for work, but in how we rested; in how we engaged with the Sabbath. How we rest has the most profound impact on who we are because it affects all that we do when we do work and interact with the world! In the same way, most of us fear silence because we are afraid of what we will find when we sit still without something to occupy our mind or our hands. We are afraid to find feelings we cannot contain, emotions we cannot control, and thoughts we cannot subside.
Basically, we are afraid to discover who we really are.
We fear that we may not like that person.
We can’t stand emotionally-driven individuals who don’t let logic rule their world, so we avoid our deepest emotions. We do not respect people who need others and so we avoid every spiritual hunger within us that we cannot contain; such as the need to grieve and to grieve openly. We fear it will make us weak, needy, and a burden to others. Or we fear thoughts running through our mind that are…less than kind. “What does it mean about the kind of person I am if I have such terrible thoughts about others? Does it mean I am a terrible person? Does it mean I am not a true or good follower of God? What does it mean?” It is exactly for this reason that we MUST enter into The Great Silence, and do so with great, authentic reflection. The more we engage these thoughts and feelings with honesty and the loving grace given by God, the more we find that we have what we need to journey through these things. We find that we cannot control our emotions, but that when put before God with vulnerability, He meets us where we are. He truly does comfort those who mourn, even if it takes a long, slow healing process. We find that we cannot contain our needs, and that we were never designed to. We are beings created for relationship, created not for dependence or independence, but for interdependence. We depend on God and on the gifts He has given us through loved ones, just as they come to depend on us. We also find that, yes, we are filled with thoughts we would rather not admit. But fear not, because all of these simply mean that you are a human. Every one of us has feelings we cannot control, needs we cannot contain, and thoughts of murdering the lazy, annoying, insert-insult-here person that Just. Drives. Me. Crazy!
It means you are human.
And good news!
God is really, REALLY fond of humans.
You see, it is important to probe the depths of our own darknesses. We in the Western World have been taught that light is good and darkness is bad; that white represents purity while black represents all that is sinful or evil. But in the pause of The Great Silence, we learn to see darkness differently. Yes, we still ask for protection from the darkness, but only the unhealthy kinds of darkness. We ask God to be present in our fears, in the evils that do surround our lives, and to be guided through the darkness of our own sinful living. We want God to open our eyes to the dangers around and within us, but it is only beneficial to do so if we then seek His refuge in our darkness! It is not beneficial to ask for deliverance from darkness if we are not willing to run to a campfire, or a lantern, or even a single candle when we discover one!
But there are also healthy kinds of darkness.
I have already alluded to the idea that darkness can point us to the light, but what else? Emily used to get very concerned for me at times. She was worried that I only listened to sad music and that I spent too much time dwelling on “sad” thoughts or feelings. While much of this is true (I LOVE sad music…as long as it’s beautiful music), she has since seen the beauty of this part of my personality. The thing is, I don’t dwell on sad things because I love hurting myself. I do it because when I do, I feel in touch with the pain of the world around me. I feel like I understand people at a deeper level and can more easily connect with them. By diving into the darkness of our world and within ourselves, we can more readily access the grace of God because we feel what people are feeling.
The ability to empathize with others leads to having compassion for them and their situation.
And especially in the places where we are overwhelmed by sadness, fear, or darkness, we are encouraged to leap deeper into our trust of God. In Seven Sacred Pauses, Macrina Wiederkehr quotes a poem by Lee Self titled, Incorrigible Exuberance Shared (a little wordy title if you ask me…but the poem is beautiful and it speaks to this idea). “What I know of You is meager. What I love of You is intense. What spills from me because of You is beyond measure. You bait me with Your nothing that is everything to me. You lead me on with promises that I must depend on You to fulfill. You teach me with sorrow, joy, peace, and anger, with anything I can muster. You are extravagant with Your love. You drown me with devotion and understanding. You leave me breathless, thoughtless. Master, Teacher, Friend, Lover, Parent, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer… I try to encompass all Your names but they slip from my grasp. When I hold nothing, I hold You. When I hold You, I hold everything.” Wiederkehr sums it up perfectly,
“In the heart of this darkness, we learn silence and surrender, for there is nothing we need to say.”
In The Great Silence, we see that the Darkness can be exquisitely beautiful and restful.
Without darkness, we cannot fully see or appreciate the light of a single candle. There is so much light within you, but to fully recognize and appreciate it you must enter into darkness regularly. You are a light, my friend. You are a light capable of drawing others to you and igniting their light. Light begets light.
But to see that light within yourself,
do not be afraid to dwell in the darkness;
to enter into the Great Silence.
If nothing else, you will find me there with you.
THE GREAT SILENCE PRAYER GUIDE
(From Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr)
O Holy One, in whose light and shadows we have journeyed through this day, Give us now a peaceful night and when our lives have ripened, a happy death!
Examen (Guide for reflection)
Let us be watchful and vigilant because the enemies of the soul prowl about looking for opportune moments to discourage us. Remember then, with confidence, the powerful and strong spiritual searchlight of faith and the magic light within. Let us place ourselves in the protective care of the angels and into the cupped hands of the Divine. (Take a moment to let these images embrace you. Use the following Examen of Consciousness as a careful reflection of your day, or create your own)
- Have I been a good memory in anyone’s life today?
- Have the ears of my heart opened to the voice of God?
- Have the ears of my heart opened to the needs of my sisters and brothers?
- Have the eyes of my heart beheld the Divine face in all created things?
- What do I know, but live as though I do not know?
- Have I been a good student of the hours today?
- How have I affected the quality of this day?
- Have I been blind or deaf to the blessings of the day?
- Is there anyone, including myself, whom I need to forgive?
- When did I experience my heart opening wide today?
- Have I worked with joy or drudgery?
- Have I waited with grace or with impatience?
- What is the one thing in my life that is standing on tiptoe crying, “may I have your attention please?” What needs my attention?
I yearn to be held in the great hands of your heart–oh let them take me now. Into them, I place these fragments, my life, and you, God–spend them however you want (Rainer Maria Rilke O Caregiver of the Night, Sweet Soul of the Darkness, send angels to protect and anoint me, protect me from darkness that can harm, anoint me with darkness that can bless. In this hour of deep silence when all things are hushed, I carve out a space in the darkness for you, O Beloved, to dwell. In the quiet of the night, I seek your face. Pour out the blessing of your presence on all who retire to their beds in sorrow and fear. Comfort those who have no silence. Shelter those who have no peace. Surprise them with your love. Summon me into your beautiful darkness. Lead me to the land of rest. Cherish my every breath while sleeping and I will rise at dawn With the memory of you in my heart. I yearn to be held in the great hands of your heart–oh let them take me now. Into them, I place these fragments, my life, and you, God–spend them however you want.
Biblical Psalm Suggestion
Psalm 23 Psalm 91 Psalm 134
O Gracious Lover of Our Souls… Let your comforting darkness embrace us this night. The beautiful prayer of this day is complete. This day’s pilgrimage is ending, and we hold dear the lessons of the hours. Night has fallen. Breathe us into this good night. Calm our hearts. Comfort our souls. Protect us from danger. Fill us with well-being. Anoint us with your loving protection. Receive our prayer. Amen. Amen. (With candles lit, sit in the darkness) O Beautiful Darkness, The arms of darkness hold us, Revealing now how dear we are. O Beautiful Darkness. O Comforting Darkness. Surround us, all around us, And hold our light like sky to star. O Beautiful Darkness. O Comforting Darkness. Amen.