This is the second of a series of Advent reflections. To read the first part, follow this link: Preparing for the Silent Night (Part One).
In part one of this series we considered the following quotation from The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander.
Because He is in the little house of our being, we will learn to control our minds, to gather our thoughts to silence, and to crown them with peace, just as we learn to control our voices and to move softly when a child is asleep in the house of bricks and mortar. (p. 100)
Houselander is suggesting that as we prepare for the coming of Christ in our hearts, we need to do five things:
- control our minds;
- gather our thoughts to silence;
- crown them with peace;
- control our voices; and
- move softly.
Let’s look at these one at a time.
Control our minds. We tend to think of the word “control” as having a meaning similar to “dominate.” But if you look at the history of the word, it originally had a meaning closer to “regulate” or “direct,” and I believe Houselander is using the word in this sense. So moving into silence is a matter of directing our minds. To what end? Well, Saint Paul instructs us to let “the mind of Christ be in us.” So the goal of contemplative prayer is to surrender our minds to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To control our minds, paradoxically, means to relax into the loving direction of the Spirit. And how do we do that? Well, Caryll Houselander shows the way; and the first step is to…
Gather our thoughts to silence. The beautiful thing about silence is that it is always within us. We just usually don’t notice it, because we are so busy focusing on the content of our thoughts. But as Houselander suggests, we need to gather our thoughts to silence; in other words, to learn to pay attention not so much to the noise inside our minds, but to the silence that lies between and beneath our thoughts. As anyone who has any experience with centering prayer, Christian meditation, or any other form of contemplative practice knows, silent forms of prayer are not about making thoughts go away — rather, learning to trust the silence that can be found between and within the activity of our minds and hearts. To notice and attend to that silence is to gather our thoughts into it. As we learn to rest in the silence within us, this leads us to Houselander’s next step.
Crown our thoughts with peace. Saint Paul said, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7). In other words, as we let go of our need to understand the ways of God (which will always be limited by the finite nature of the human mind), we can more easily relax in to the peace of God which guards our hearts and minds — in silence. We typically speak about “peace and quiet,” acknowledging that there is a link between serenity and silence. The “silent night” is the night that belongs to the prince of Peace. Trust the silence within you, and God will lead you to peace. Even when our thoughts are agitated, confused, angry, or even violent, we can meet them with the peace of God which we find in the silence that is always resting deep within us. Thus, we crown our thoughts — all our thoughts, not just the “nice” or “spiritual” ones — with the profound, healing serenity of Christ.
Control our voices. Once again, remember we are called not to dominate our tongue, but to direct it to Godly purposes. Saint James says “no human being can tame the tongue,” but Saint Luke reminds us “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God” (James 3:8, Luke 18:27). By the grace of God, we can direct our voice, our tongue, to honor God through silence. We can learn to let go of the need to always be talking, always be making noise with our mouths. When we acknowledge that Christ dwells in our hearts, we can learn to let go of the compulsion to speak, and learn to listen instead. And even when we do speak, we are invited to do so gently, peacefully, quietly. Speak softly, and carry a big Spirit — the Spirit of God within you.
Move softly. Finally, Caryll Houselander speaks about “moving softly.” She’s talking about a parent caring for a sleeping child — we move softly to avoid disturbing our baby’s slumber — but I think this is symbolic of maturing in the spiritual life. As we embrace silence and discover God’s peace in our hearts, we realize that we can move gently through life. We can embrace compassion and tenderness, tenderness and self-control, as the defining characteristics of our lives. To be silent in God is to be capable of walking gently with wisdom. It leads to a holier way of being, of doing, of living.
Let me wrap up this reflection with one of my favorite verses in the Bible: Psalm 62:1, which to my mind captures the full spirit of Advent. In the New American Bible that verse reads “My soul rests in God alone, from whom comes my salvation.” But consider how it is translated in the Jewish Artscroll Translation: “For God alone my soul waits silently, from Him comes my salvation.” For God alone, my soul waits silently. The heart of this verse is a word in Hebrew, dumiyyah, which captures the essence of contemplation as well as of Advent. Dumiyyah can literally be translated as “silence” or “rest,” but it also has a sense of “waiting” about it. To rest in God means to wait in silence upon Him. It bears repeating: To rest in God, means to wait in silence upon Him. May each of us discover in these days of Advent our own path toward resting in silence as we wait for his coming, and for his coming again. Amen.
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