the big silence

big silence
The Big Silence cast

Many of the world’s religions believe that there is one simple path that leads us to God. This same path takes us to the very center of who we are. It has been at the core of the Catholic mystical tradition for centuries. But, outside of religious settings it has all but disappeared. It’s called SILENCE. (taken from the introduction to The Big Silence)

There is little silence in the world of church news today. Yet, amid the clamorous head-lines surrounding the papal resignation…Lent begins.

I’ve shared many times about my lack of self-discipline. I suck at giving things up, sticking to diets, or keeping resolutions. Therefore, I’m going to go small this Lent – as opposed to going big and failing. I’m going to try and carve out a wee bit of intentional silence each day.

Last week I came across a link to an intriguing British reality show, available on YouTube, called The Big Silence. The series is about five volunteers who are invited to leave their hectic lives behind to enter into silence. The first experience is a weekend in a Benedictine community in Worth Abbey, after which they are invited to seek some silent time in their day to day lives. The biggest challenge follows; eight days of silence in a Jesuit retreat centre in North Wales. The last part of the series follows them as they re-enter into their ‘normal’ lives. For some, it was a life-changing experience. Some struggled to make sense of what happened in those eight days. For all, there is the challenge to make silence part of their daily living outside of a structured retreat experience.

The group comprises a diversity of religious and spiritual back-grounds. Some have a faith life, some don’t.  This makes it all the more fascinating to watch as they voluntarily enter into two very Catholic settings; a Benedictine monastery and a Jesuit retreat center. Conversion to a specific belief is not the purpose of the quest. The purpose is to enter into silence. In the process, God may or may not be found.

As with most reality shows, there is a sense of voyeurism as we listen to them share their experiences for the camera and with their spiritual guides. The gift of this show, and the gift offered by these volunteers, is a wee window into the soul of five regular women and men. They are not saints or even intentional seekers of a spiritual life. Yet, the spiritual life seems to tweak each and every one of them.

Watching this show has nudged me into my Lenten resolution. I’m going to put aside the ‘noise’ of iPads, iPhones, computers and TV’s for a tiny chunk of time each day; perhaps 15 minutes to begin. Turning off gadgets will be easy. Turning off my mind will be the challenge!

(The three hour series has been divided into twelve, 15 minute episodes for YouTube viewing. Just search The Big Silence and the episode number you want to watch. A companion web-site, Growing into Silence provides many resources for the journey.)

happy lent!

Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. Today, a friend wished me a Happy Lent! I chuckled at the oxymoron. Isn’t Lent all about sack-cloth and ashes, fasting, giving up pleasurable tastes and treats, and focusing on the poor and needy in our world? Hardly stuff to be happy about.

But, I really do need a happy Lent. I need to focus on the proverbial half full glass instead of wallowing in the half-empty shallowness. I’m tired of reading about the unbelievable stupidity coming from some of our political and church leaders. I’m even more tired of the same ranting voices on discussion boards; voices that loudly promote their own narrow views, refusing to listen to the other. The focuses on issues that have little connection with real life, but much to say about power struggles are dragging me down. The loud railing against the so-called ‘culture wars’ and anti-Catholic persecutions in North America are not firing up my Catholic soul and readying me for a righteous battle. They are making me want to hide in a quiet corner until the kaka clears.

The following words are in today’s Psalm reading, (Psalm 55),

If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and find rest. Far away I would flee; I would stay in the desert.

Ah, the classic Lenten image of a desert. A harsh place, yes. But also a place of solitude and deep silence. A place of vast horizons of sameness, forcing you to spend time in what can be the harshest and most challenging of places – your own interior life. Forcing you to be still. To listen. To seek the wisdom within.

Of course, I can’t escape the late winter prairies to go tenting in the desert for forty days. But, I know that I can be more intentional in seeking the silence. I know what I need to turn off and when. I know how I can carve out time in my day to be still, and know better our God.

This is my Lenten resolution. This, and a commitment to put rants aside for a while. This doesn’t mean embracing a Pollyanna existence, closing my eyes to hide the darkness. I don’t trust the perpetually optimistic if the optimism comes from a place of denial or refusal to face reality. But, I do find energy in those who, in the midst of struggles and despair, can see the face of hope. Can be the face of hope to those around them.

I’m still not sure what a happy Lent will look like. But, I’m willing to give it a try. And, of course, I’ll use this blog to help map out the journey; hoping that others will add their wisdom along the way!