I closed the year 2013 with a reflection (see below) on Sarah Coakley’s essay entitled “Prayer as Crucible” in How My Mind Has Changed (Essays from the Christian Century, edited by David Heim, Cascade Books, 2011). Professor Coakley writes about what happened to her as a result of an ongoing practice in Transcendental Meditation—one very effective way of practicing silence.
She described her experience this way: “Underneath was an extraordinary sense of spiritual and epistemic expansion—of being taken by the hand into a new world of glorious Technicolor, in which all one’s desires were newly magnetized toward God, all beauty sharpened and intensified. Yet simultaneously all poverty, deprivation, and injustice were equally and painfully impressed with new force on my consciousness.”
I can imagine that many people would want the first half of that, but not so much the latter half, since we live in a world in which every newscast wants us to know about the very worst that is happening in the world. Presumably, it was the first half of Coakley’s experience that made the second part bearable.
Shortly after reading Coakley’s essay, I picked up a copy of Jefferson Bethke’s book Jesus > Religion (Thomas Nelson, 2013), in which I found the amazing suggestion that what young people fear most today is silence. Bethke looks at how incessantly connected young people are to their iPods, social media sites, and cell phones, and concludes that the most intolerable thing must be silence.
I wonder if one reason young people might fear silence is that they know by some instinct that what awaits them through silence is a driving deep within themselves. Perhaps they sense that what awaits them, should they dare, is what Coakley found: a great, intense magnetizing toward God in which, yes, there may be tremendous beauty, but there might also be a too-terrible, too-painful encounter with the poverty and injustice in the world.