Practicing Silence – Part 2

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.


Practicing Silence – Part 1

“Prayer as Crucible” is the name of a chapter by Sarah Coakley in a book entitled How My Mind Has Changed: Essays from the Christian Century. The book was edited by David Heim, executive editor of Christian Century. Sarah Coakley is a professor of divinity at the University of Cambridge and a priest in the Church of England.

Almost anything about prayer catches my eye these days because in about two months my novel on the subject will be published by an independent publisher.

Coakley describes her essay as “an account of how prayer—especially the simple prayer of relative silence or stillness—has the power to change one’s perception of the theological task.”  There’s something to roll around in your mind!

I agree with her understanding of the prayer of silence because this was my experience too. Like Coakley, I came to a quite deepened relationship with the divine through the practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM). She calls her TM experience an “experiment.” Mine, which started in 1992 and has continued since, was more deliberate but the results have been similar. She writes, “the impact was electrifying.” I usually understate it as “the single most important thing I’ve ever done.” But I like her words that the prayer of silence has the power to change one’s perception of the theological task.

Of course this begs the asking of what the theological task is. If theology literally means “study of God” and is understood as meaning the study of the nature of God and religious belief, then the change in my perception that came about through TM was the realization that what I most wanted (to feel close to God) is not only possible but a gift God wants for me to have. Therefore, the theological task, as I see it, is falling into relationship with God.

Sitting in silence as a regular practice is the ticket.


Who’s an Author?

Rob Eagar posted a “Monday Morning Tip” this morning making the claim that there is no such thing as an author. Sort of a provocative way to start a workweek for us writers! Here is an encapsulating line from his post: “It’s not the act of writing that makes someone an author. It’s the act of someone else buying what you wrote.” Okay, that’s pretty provocative too.

It appears to be a reality of publishing today – regardless of the route by which your writing reaches print – that writers have to do their own marketing. This is viewed as daunting to most of us, but for some of us, it’s a world of promise. It hearkens back to the words of wisdom most of us heard repeatedly in our youth: “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” I don’t mean that major publishing houses can’t do marketing well; just that these days they tend to devote their marketing funds to already established writers.

Maintaining regular spiritual practices can help with the marketing process in more ways than one. First, of course, staying deeply in tune with your spirituality fosters a state of calm for approaching the task. Second, spending regular time in silence helps to clarify in your mind avenues that will be helpful to you and those unlikely to be. Third, and probably most important, frequent prayer keeps you connected with the knowledge that you do not have to go it alone.

So, move forward in marketing what you have written, and become an author – by Rob Eagar’s definition or anyone else’s.


Surfacing from Busyness

This month is the two-year anniversary of when this blog was launched. Anniversaries are always good occasions for pausing to remember the reasons one is doing something, whether it’s being in a relationship, working at a company, continuing in a group, or maintaining a blog.

The foundational intention for the blog was to be about two things: becoming aware of our spirituality every day of our lives … and how to experience this extraordinary gift on such a regular basis that it actually becomes our ordinary, “everyday” life.

But that very first entry, two years ago, acknowledged that daily life inserts itself constantly and demands our attention, with the result that we might go all day without realizing the peace and serenity that are available to us if we can only stop long enough to let them surface.

When those times happen to me – as they have relentlessly this past month – the best thing I can do is sit in silence and let myself sink back into the awareness of the Spirit that is still there waiting. The connection to the all-encompassing Spirit never goes away, never abandons us. We have to keep in mind that if we’re feeling the absence of God, it isn’t God that moved.