Learning to Listen Through Silence and Solitude

by Mark Votava

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Most of my life I have faced the temptation to evade any sense of silence and solitude.  This practice has haunted and terrified me for many years.  I have not wanted to face the reality of listening to my life, God or others.  Because of this I have been blinded to the mystery and beauty in life.

  • Christ learned to listen through the silence and solitude of the desert

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert…” (Matthew 4:1).  Christ was led into the silence and solitude of the desert in order to learn to listen to the mystery and beauty in life. Jesus had a listening spirit because of the silence and solitude he practiced.  He practiced this for the common good of his local community and the world.

  • Listening to life in all things

He needed to practice this in order to listen to life in all things.  The desert was not easy for Jesus, but it was essential to his longing to listen.  What did Jesus do in the desert for 40 days?  If you break it down 40 days is just under 6 weeks.

  • Finding many different ways to listen

I believe he found many different ways to listen.  Most of it was probably practiced in silence.  It was a cultivation of groaning, longing, dreaming, reflecting, walking and sleeping.  He probably was bored, lonely, tired and hungry at times.

  • The process of disciplining ourselves

But he kept going because he knew this was the process of disciplining himself to listen.  This was essential to the whole life of his passion.  Can we imagine what 6 weeks of silence and solitude a year would do for our capacity to listen as the body of Christ in the place we live?  Have we had the courage to experiment with this kind of practice?

  • Becoming seasoned practitioners of listening

We would be a much more holistic church if we experimented with this practice of silence and solitude.  We need to become seasoned practitioners of listening to all of life in the parish.  We need a holistic approach to listening to mystery.  We need a holistic approach to listening to beauty.

  • Finding the mystery and beauty all around us

We need to take this listening seriously through our practice of silence and solitude.  Mystery and beauty are all around us as the body of Christ in everyday life.  We need eyes that long for this mystery and beauty to be seen, understood and experienced in our locality.  It is there, we just have trouble seeing it because we do not always live a life of listening.

  • Keeping silence and solitude so we can listen

Tony Jones says, “Ultimately, we keep silence and solitude so we can listen better – so we can hear what God is saying to us and to our world.”

How can we practice silence and solitude in our lives?