Wednesday, May 16, 2012


We’ve been watching a BBC documentary on YouTube called The Big Silence about an experiment conducted by a Benedictine monk, Fr. Christopher Jamison, in the old country. He invited 5 very different and very secular people into an experience of Silence.

The theory of the experiment is that Silence is the most effective pathway to discovering God. This spiritual practice is common to all religious traditions (except the church of Rock n Roll of course).

Only one of the five people describe themselves as Christian, although they all have Christian backgrounds of some sort. Two in the group are professed atheists, and the others describe their loss of faith due to different reasons.

They start with a weekend retreat at the priest’s own monastery as a preparation for an 8 day retreat into silence at a historic Jesuit centre. They have opportunity for both group instruction and individual reflection with the Fr. Jamison. All of it is captured on film and their very frank reflections are quite revealing.

Back in their own worlds after the intial wknd (resulting in some small positive results)  the participants quickly stream back into their busy, full lives. The camera catches them mid-stream and they talk about their failure to bring silence into their worlds.

What I found fascinating was the fear they expressed.

The priest had instructed them that on their path to God in silence, they would encounter the deepest part of themselves – the part that is often hidden and overlooked by the busy work of the ego-self. He shared with them the teaching that to enter into the full presence of God requires “a pure heart” and what we find as we enter into this deep place is that our hearts are far from pure. We have mixed motivations for our actions, our relationships, our passions and habits.

Our selfish and selfless motivations get jumbled together and the things we tell ourselves to keep going are not necessarily true. The masks we wear and show the world can even appear in the bathroom mirror – so strong are the “truths” we use to disguise our lies.

Again, don’t all religions talk about breaking through illusion to find new eyes to see.

The priest had instructed them that unless they went deep into this path – they risked letting this part of themselves wither and die. (I love how Catholics use fear to coax us closer to God.)

In my own practice, I struggle to bring stillness into moments of my day.

Instead of waiting to get to my physical place of retreat and peace on wknds or holydays – why not use my powers of imagination to find that same stillness in my size 13 church? (wherever I stand)

One of the challenges of Sunday morning is that some people are looking for that Stillness and some people are looking for a more social experience of Community. These competing needs are an oil and water mix.

Of course, to try to get all the Stillness, or all the Community, we need in just one time and place, is an unrealistic expectation.

I find that while I get excited about packing all kinds of creative and fun worship experiences into a service, I am also very sympathetic to those folks who are looking for that quiet, meditative, island of peace in their week.  

That still place is a Sabbath place. A place of unbusy, empty, radical rest. A place where our souls can let go of the worry and stress that fill us up, and be present to the ageless Spirit that knows, that cares, that calls us into a Peace where fear melts away in the flow of ageless, constant, love.

We capture that place in our Sanctuary. The place of history and tradition where saints have come to pray and sing and find the moral courage and spiritual resolve they need. To put aside the selfish demands of the ever-needy ego – and listen instead to God’s voice calling them into their soul’s quest – requires Sabbath devotion.

For me, that still place is an animal place. To be truly Still. To simply watch and wait and listen and learn is to become one of God’s creatures.

Animals speak only rarely. Most of the time they are Silent. Most of their hours are spent quietly searching for sustenance. Or carefully keeping vigilance so they don’t become another’s sustenance.

I need to be so care-full. How can I stay alert to the worries, stresses, ego-neediness that eats away at me? How can I remain mind-full, in mid-stream, of the predatory nature of my busy, demanding world that would devour every ounce of soul in me and still be hungry for more…?

Might I learn to keep an inner Stillness that watches for the signs of soul-food. Could my heart be ready, quietly waiting and open - even as I rush about – to drink in what the Creator offers in this moment. To catch a breeze and not miss it. To see the way the sun lights up a tree’s shady streetcorner respite offering. To let the Natural world touch me and give me sanctuary in a glass of water. To prayer-fully receive what the Maker offers in every breath, and to be reminded in that receiving - of the creature-self I am.

It is from this place that I desire to live. From this place my imagination can take me into the problems, tasks, distractions that make up my day, my collecting and crafting of the things I need. That we all need. In this place these tasks take their proper place and proportion to the rest of my living. In this place the balance of rest and work, art and service, getting and giving, listening and speaking - find their fulcrum.       

Today, the alleycat pads once again into the adventure that is learning to become child-like in order to see the kingdom under my toes.  

thanks to 
for the amazing images 

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