You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think. — Mortimer J. Adler
I gave a retreat this week for a school faculty. Teachers are one of my favorite groups to lead retreats with, as they are by profession hungry to learn, called to be the world’s experts at wondering.
As I often do, I spoke on the power of silence to open an inner space for creativity, honesty, freedom and prayer. Carving out time in each day to be still, to simplify your attention, to listen, to not be productive, to allow unattended thoughts and feelings to simply surface, without analyzing them — this is a royal road to inner peace and stability. To being fully human.
Among the most important practices of my day, I would rank at the top beginning every morning, not with music, news or internet, but with 5 minutes of total silence followed by at least 25 minutes of lectio divina on the day’s Mass readings. On the days I don’t do this, the effects are very evident. In a word, I lose my center and become dissipated.
Robert Cardinal Sarah said that “the life of silence must be able to precede the active life,” precisely because silence allows us to re-center ourselves within and become true actors and not just re-actors. Constant exposure to external noise, distraction and frenetic activity alienates us from ourselves, removes our anchor from God-in-the-soul and hooks our soul’s powers in the shifting sands around us.
I once had the opportunity to spend an hour in a car driving the Trappist monk and author, Fr. Raphael Simon, back to his monastery. What an honor, what a holy man. He heard my confession as I drove! I asked him what holiness looks like in his experience. He said,
In my experience, you can see greatness when words become fewer, weightier, more measured, emerge from a place of depth. Because of this, their words are like arrows that penetrate deeply into others. They also become exceedingly reticent to criticize anyone, and when they do, only with a sharp awareness of their own faults. You see, in silence God is able to reveal you to yourself in His light. But if you remain in noise, you remain in ignorance.