Defining Our Terms: Silence and Solitude

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun Part 14 of 17

Each issue of Conversations is built around a theme from the spiritual formation literature. In this issue our contributors are working with the subject of “gifts from the monastery.” While there will be a particular focus on silence and solitude, other “gifts” will be unwrapped as well. While the editors invite a variety of voices to the table, we have come to believe it may be helpful to our readers if we offer some definitional clarity as an anchor point. We are delighted that InterVarsity Press has agreed to contribute this column, “Defining Our Terms.” The table below is taken from a book by one of their authors, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, titled Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us1 and on the two most prominent themes for this issue of Conversations.

Silence and Solitude

SilenceSolitude
Desire:To free myself from the addiction to and distraction of noise so I can be totally present to the Lord; to open myself to God in the place beyond words.To leave people behind and enter into time alone with God.
Definition:Silence is a regenerative practice of attending and listening to God in quiet, without interruption and noise. Silence provides freedom from speaking as well as from listening to words or music. (Reading is also listening to words.)The practice of solitude involves scheduling enough uninterrupted time in a distraction-free environment that you experience isolation and are alone with God. Solitude is a “container discipline” for the practice of other disciplines.
Scripture:“After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:12)2“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15) “The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’” (1 Kings 19:11)
Practice Includes:• Setting a period of time in which you don’t speak but isolate yourself from sounds (other than perhaps the sounds of nature)
• Giving God time and space that is not in competition with social contact, noise, or stimulation
• Driving or communicating without the radio or CD player turned on• Taking a retreat
• Leaving the TV off; spending time in silence with God alone• Observing Sabbath refreshment by abstaining from constant interaction with others, information, and activities
• Exercising without attending to noise; listening to God
• Addressing your addiction to being seen
• Having personal retreats in silence • Practicing disciplines alone: study, prayer, examen, journaling, and so forth
God-Given Fruit:• Being attentive to the voice of Jesus• Freedom from the need to be occupied and stimulated
• Having freedom from negative habits of speech (deception, gossip, impulsive chatter, small talk, impression management, the need to express your opinion or critique)• Moving away from letting the world squeeze you into its mold (Romans 12:2)
• Freedom from addictions to noise or sound (radio, TV, phone, iPod, etc.)• Liberation from constantly living your life in reference to other people
• Receiving quiet from the chaos and the noise of your life• Quieting the internal noise so you can better listen to God
• Having a deeper intimacy with God• Giving yourself time and space to internalize what you already know
• Growing in self-awareness as the silence invites the subconscious to move into deeper levels of knowing• Speaking only what you hear from God rather than out of your store of opinions
• Developing increased listening skills • including solitude and retreat as part of your lifestyle
Footnotes
  1. From pages of 107 and 111 of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, ©2005 by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Used with permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, www.ivpress.com
  2. All Scriptural references are from the NIV.
Listen to all parts in this Conversations—Gifts from the Monastery: Silence and Solitude series