Today’s Bible reading
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
The forest will disappear completely,
and the city will be utterly laid low.
Happy will you be who sow beside every stream,
who let the ox and the donkey range freely.—Isaiah 32:16-20
More thoughts for meditation
During Lent we will be learning from great practitioners and teachers of Christian contemplative practice. Their shared wisdom and encouragement will inspire our own practice. Our words for Lent are “We need to feel it.” — our hunger, our lack, our sin, yes, but also the love that casts out fear, the presence of eternity in our here and now and the forgiveness that transforms our lives and the whole world. Contemplative prayer is a powerful way to practice feeling it.
Martin Laird’s A Sunlit Absence is a companion book to Into The Silent Land (Pastors’ Goodreads review here and Daily Prayer entries on that text here). He is one of our aforementioned “great practitioner of Christian contemplation.”
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos
The blackbird whistling
Or just after. —Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
Laird writes about silence, and coping with noisy disruptions during sustained periods of intentional silence, in this case using someone whose retreat was interrupted an electric buzz saw:
“Coping with disruptive noise that we simply cannot do anything about does not so much call for praying to the patron saint of noise reduction as for being resolved that it’s okay for the noise to be there if it happens to be there and nothing can be done about it. To get caught up in a buzzing commentary on how irritating the nose is makes for a relationship with noise. The irritation is something the mind adds. We need a simpler relationship with noise. Instead of meeting an irritating buzz saw, we just want to let the buzz saw be there if nothing can be done about it. For this to happen, two things are required.
First, if our practice has been deeply established, we are in a position to learn something from silence and its generous way of allowing noise to be present when it happens to be present. To get caught up in a commentary on the noise will not make it go away but will only tighten the clenching of our jaws around our preference that the noise be gone. Our own generous release into our practice mirrors what silence does all the time; silence is wide and gracious enough to allow sound, even irritating sound, to be present. Second, instead of trying to push disruption away, we shift our attention away from the disrupting noise to our prayer word or to whatever our contemplative practice is. The return is not a pushing away or a reactive clinging, but a generous release into our practice. We will soon begin to see that the noisy disruptions that we cannot control becomes an exercise, a training, that strengthens us in our practice, the way a challenging terrain strengths the distance runner. But again this return to our practice will not be a pushing away or a flight from disruption. Deepening immersion in contemplative practice is simultaneous with allowing the disruption to be present; we just become better at not letting it steal our attention. And when it inevitably does, we simply bring attention home without comment” (Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence, p. 51-52).
Suggestions for Action
“Physical silence is good for us and needs to be pursued, cultivated, understood, and revered. Physical silence increases our awareness of all that is going on around us, especially the needs and sensitivities of others” (ibid., p. 56).
The best way to apply what Laird is writing up is to practice it. He gently is guiding us to create silent spaces in our lives in order to encounter God within us. They do not come without intention. Sure, we are often awkwardly silent, or found in stunned silence, or giving a loved one the silent treatment in our resentment, but that’s not what Laird means. It’s more like the “reverential silence of dogwoods in winter,” or “the vast silence of a cathedral.”
So create another intentional space today for as long as you can, and try to return to your contemplative practice. If you are just joining us this week, go back to the first day to get a primer on contemplative prayer. Practice it again, and when you are distracted, invariably, by a noise (like a buzz saw in our example above), bring your attention back to your breath and the word.