Silence, Sabbath and Sleep

Silence, Sabbath, and Sleep

BLOG Post #13 January 26, 2021

Silence is a contemplative posture that society in general, and even devout Christians can struggles with greatly. Contemplative practices such as Centering prayer, Lectio Divina, the Jesus Prayer, or Prayer of quiet, all of have silence, born of simplicity and solitude, as key components to holy listening and hearing God’s voice. When teaching these I have found that an interesting inner conflict often surfaces between a Christians deep desire for silence, as a way to listen for God’s voice and the emergence of an aversion, discomfort, even fear of silence once they initially sense the silent space. I believe that this is a relatively new conflict born out of a world that is constantly producing noise and distractions of all sort, in greater abundance than ever before. There is a constant din of noise ranging from low to high decibels that we find ourselves immersed in 24/7. This has become so pervasive that human beings have been conditioned to struggle with because of a desensitization to true silence. As mentioned in an earlier BLOG we are not necessarily talking about silence as the absence of any sound, as much as it is the absence of any sound that distracts us from God’s voice. In a way we might call the silence in which we hear God’s voice as natural silence whereas the world is filled with artificial silence, which is nothing more than noise lowered to a level less than the noise we hear more regularly. This low-level noise is more insidious than the noise of a freight train for it ironically quietly distracts us from natural, deep, spirit and soul, silence in which we can know holy listening. The problem that has arisen is that when artificial noise is eliminated, we become anxious. This is because, without our even realizing it, we have become addicted to artificial noise and distraction. Thus, when we enter into contemplative practices designed to eliminate the artificial silence (which is just low-level noise) and are introduced to natural silence, we feel a kind of withdrawal that makes us anxious with our own thoughts, and more dangerously with the presence and action of God with us. I have found that when individuals can rest into the anxiety of this withdrawal that they begin to realize that true (or natural) silence, where holy listening occurs, is our natural God created way of being with God. When this is realized I have seen amazing things occur in the spiritual growth of these individuals.

There are ways in which we can reclaim the natural God given human affinity to natural silence in which we can hear God. As might be expected, both of these are natural, God given, aspects of our human makeup that we, in modern society, have ignored greatly. These are Sleep and Sabbath.

Sleep and Sabbath

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard a thousand times. I am so busy, and my mind is so preoccupied that I am lucky to get 5 hours sleep each night. Then even if we do manage 8 hours of sleep it is often not truly restful. Technology has allowed us to bring our phones, TV’s, our social media, our work to bed with us. How many people are on their computer, or smart phones right up to the moment they lay their heads on a pillow to sleep. We think we have turned off the noise when we close our eyes but the effect, on our emotions, our minds, and even our souls and spirits linger on into the night long after we close our eyes and fall asleep.

Regarding Sabbath rest, a seventh day when we unwind and rest in God’s presence, we have all but jettisoned the concept. This is true for the church and for our society in general. Not only do we not take a day off from work, but we keep our phones and computers ready to answer an email to discuss a business idea or take a class well into the evening hours. By this we perpetuate the noise into most of our lives, non-stop, without even realizing it.

Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work: it is a sabbath to the LORD throughout your settlements. NRS Leviticus 23:3

So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God's rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. NRS Hebrews 4:9-10

I firmly believe that a cycle of proper sleep and regular Sabbath day of rest, both of which are God ordained, are absolutely necessary for one to develop the ability to hear God in true silence. It was after the silence of sleep that Jacob became aware of God’s presence.

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place

and I did not know it!" NRS Genesis 28:16

The silence of deep sleep becomes a training ground for our hearts and minds to hear God. This is likely a big part of why people today have such a difficult time with silence. Not enough sleep and avoidance of Sabbath rest. I would suggest that a good practice to develop silence that allows for contemplative holy listening is, to wake up slowly after a good night rest. As you wake keep your eyes closed. Don’t immediately reach for the cell phone to check the time or your email. Allow yourself to savor the moments between sleep and awakening. In this liminal space we also begin to get in touch with the awakening of our spirit and thus a deeper awareness of God’s presence. As such silence and contemplative listening along with an awakening to God’s presence gently mesh as we realize ourselves barefoot, on sacred timeless ground. We become more and more aware of the voice of God in the silence of the present timeless moment.

“And so we find that in time there is only the seam between a past that is no more and a future that is not yet; and the now is not in time at all”

David Stendl-Rast, A Listening Heart, pg. 22

Silence in which we hear God, in which we develop holy listening is therefore a timeless place, which can be known as we allow ourselves to truly sleep each night and enter into Sabbath rest every 7th day. These are God ordained ways in which we leave the artificial silence (low insidious noise) behind and get it touch with the natural way of silence and holy listening. This is a blessing God built into the natural fabric of our being where we discover God’s presence and action within us and around us, that we may respond well to God with us and be open to the Lord’s guidance in our lives.

God bless you all.

Gene Yotka

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