“We need also times of silent waiting, alone, when the busy intellect is not leaping from problem to problem, and from puzzle to puzzle. If we learn the secret of carrying a living silence in the center of our being we can listen on the run. The listening silence can become intertwined with all our inward prayers. A few moments of relaxed silence, alone, every day, are desperately important. When distracting noises come, don’t fight against them, do not elbow them out, but accept them and weave them by prayer into the silence.” (Thomas Kelly, The Sanctuary of the Soul, in A Guide to Prayer (Upper Room Books, 2013), p.293).
I read this quote from Thomas Kelly several weeks ago as I was trying to recover from the noise and turmoil of air travel (we flew to Oregon to visit family). I only fly every 1-2 years and it’s usually a stressful event filled with anxiety. It feels so noisy, chaotic and out of control, and it usually triggers deep fears in me of being on my own without the resources I need. This is not actually true, but my body thinks and acts as if it is, because of experiences I’ve had in the past. I’ve found some practices over the years that have helped provide space for the grace of God to access these wounded parts of my soul. Times of silence, stillness and listening prayer have been essential to the deep inner healing that I need. Thankfully, anxiety levels have dropped significantly over the past few years as a result.
For the first few days after travelling when I closed my eyes I could only see and hear the noise and bustle of travellers. Airports and airplanes are filled with many stressed and busy people, often in a hurry and irritable (myself included!) One of the first things I do when travelling is try to find a place where I will be able to be quiet and alone in the early mornings. I have found this essential to my sanity and peace.
“There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)
After a few failed attempts, I found a rhythm that worked for me. As I settled into a safe place and time, I began to be able to calm the voices and still the images. By God’s gentle invitation and provision, I entered into stillness and silence, trying to keep my focus on him alone. I could listen and receive.
I greatly desired to experience the “living silence” that Kelly speaks of that I could carry with me amidst the busyness of sight-seeing and conversations with family. At times I felt a reservoir of peace that I could access when out and about. A trip to the restroom, a silent moment in between sights and conversations, provided me an opportunity to reconnect with this living silence within me. It helped solidify my soul and keep me centered, at least somewhat. Continual attention to the fount of silence in the mornings renewed the reservoir.
There were many times, however, when it didn’t “work,” and I felt just as frazzled and restless as ever. I tried not to linger on these too much, but try again when I felt up to it. I think it’s something I can continue to grow in, and I think it’s something that makes Jesus smile, which is good enough for me!