This article first appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of live magazine.
Connected 24/7, we find it hard to imagine life without a phone, a computer or TV screens. Living in a technological era, we have lost the experience of silence . . . supplanted by the constant ‘noise’ of words and images. Noise fills our daily lives: the noise of our coffee machines in the morning, the noise of the radio as we drive, the noise of traffic in our towns and cities, not to mention the phones and computers at work.
Even our Sunday worship gives us no solace from the noise that fills our lives. Our worship service is packed with songs, responsive prayers or readings, not to mention the sermon. After the worship service the noise of fellowship leaves little room for contemplation of the sermon.
Is there any place for silence and solitude in our lives as followers of Christ? We simply have no time for it! We are too busy! We try to cram time into our busy schedules to read our Bibles and pray but it is harder and harder as the noisiness of life seeks to interrupt our solace. We say, “I’ll make it up tomorrow!” but this tomorrow seldom comes, as our daily responsibilities drown out the silence of our prayer life.
Nevertheless, as Christians, we have to find time to give our full attention to God. If we desire to have a deeper relationship with Him having a quick devotional before or after sleep will not do. God is jealous for our undivided attention and expects it from us just as we would from our loved ones.
Thankfully, the Church has understood the importance of solace and contemplation for the faith of Christians. Today we can participate in contemplative retreats. These often take place in monasteries or convents. The retreats vary in length as it takes time to learn the art of silence, but the reactions of participants afterwards is always positive. While many are looking forward to spending time with the Lord without interruptions there is also a sense of fear from the requirement of silence. But that’s the main point . . . to be silent with the Lord, to give one’s all to Him, to wait for the voice of the Spirit to speak to the heart. Every activity is done in silent contemplation, broken only for 30 minutes a day with a mentor for a discussion. The mentor suggests certain passages from the Bible that will deepen the contemplation of the participant.
After the retreats, participants always speak of their deepened faith. They speak of the experience of turning themselves over to God and realizing that their lives are really not about them but about the will of God for their lives. Some come with certain questions and find that their real questions were entirely different. Others admit that they are more afraid that God will answer their prayers because that will mean changes in their lives, which they know will not be simple. Common to all participants is the peace experienced in and by the presence of God who is in control of everything.
A journey with God is to some extent a journey into the unknown, a journey that requires faith and trust in Him. In the end, these contemplative retreats – much like faith – need to be experienced. While the retreat experience varies with each person, that which is the same for all is an experience of the sacred, which leaves its mark on the participant.
The writers of the Gospels noted that Jesus would regularly “withdraw to a deserted place to pray.” And if Christ placed importance on solitude and contemplative prayer perhaps we should as well. It takes time to learn silence, to be able to communicate in and through silence in order to better hear the voice of God. Contemplation should be at the heart of our spiritual life as it is about making ourselves more and more open to God and more and more aware of God at work in our lives.
By Yevgeniya Bakai
Jenya is CBWOQ’s new president.Her husband pastors Greenborough Community Church in Toronto.