Everyone needs a little peace and quiet from time to time, but researchers have found that too much quiet can actually drive a person crazy! Scientist at Orfield Labs in Minneapolis have developed what they call an anechoic chamber—that means no echo. The room is so constructed that walls, floors, and ceiling absorb all sound rather than reflecting it like most surfaces do. The average quiet room has a decimal level of thirty, but this room holds the record for the lowest decimal level at just nine. It is so quiet that test subjects could hear their own blood flow, the beat of their heart, the churning of their stomach and even the functioning of their own inner ear! Scientist suggest that there is even a kind of electrical whine that our brainwaves make that is normally drowned out by our surroundings. As it turns out this experience is literally maddening. After being locked in the room subjects experienced hallucinations and became extremely disoriented. The longest anyone has been able to stand being inside is forty five minutes.
But one doesn’t need to be in an anechoic chamber to find the experience of silence uncomfortable. There is that constant existential buzz of self-consciousness that is always just below the surface of our awareness. When we slow down and listen to our own heart we are confronted by our own sin and brokenness, by our fear, and our desperate need for God. We feel his probing gaze and shrink from it in shame. We do our best to distract ourselves with the noise of business, of entertainment, and other diversions. Sometimes even worry is preferable to it. We find a million other ways to occupy our thoughts to avoid the inner silence where we are alone with God.
Silence can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it is a necessary element in a healthy spiritual life. Jesus demonstrated this in his own life. Throughout his ministry he would retire to quiet places away from the crowd. In our Gospel lesson today, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus goes out into the wilderness for 40 days of solitude, silence, and fasting. In what does the value of silence consist?
Silence gives us the focus that we need to hear from God. Since ancient times men and women have sought out quiet places in the wilderness to hear from the Lord. After his victory over the priest of Baal on Mt. Carmel, the prophet Elijah retired to a desert place. God sent to him a mighty wind that shattered the rock, but God was not in the wind. He sent an earthquake and fire, but Elijah found God in none of these dramatic manifestations. Instead he found him in the gentle whisper, the still small voice. I believe this is often the case in our lives as well. We expect that if God were to speak to us it would be in some loud an ostentatious way, but more often than not God speaks to us in such a way that we can easily miss him if we are not attentive. God’s presence is opened up to us, his voice, and guidance made available to us as we turn our attention to him and invite him into our heart.
It is so important that we take time in our busy day to quiet ourselves and hear from God. When I was I kid, I can remember my father always being awake before everyone else. He worked early, but he would get even earlier than he too. This was his quiet time with God. If you came down stairs you would find him sitting quietly with a cup of coffee and the Bible open in his lap.
Not everyone is a morning person. Maybe the best time for you is just before bed at night, or during your lunch break at work. Whatever the time, I encourage you to set it aside for God. He really does speak to us. During Lent, we are offering times of quiet meditation on scripture in our chapel, Sundays at 9 am and Thursdays at 12 pm. I hope you will take advantage of them.
Not only is silence important in growing closer to God, it is also essential for understanding ourselves better. Self-knowledge is a necessary element in spiritual growth. The first step in getting well is knowing what is wrong. If we want to grow in holiness we need to confront our sinfulness at its root. We need to ask ourselves, what strongholds does the devil have in my heart and mind that keep me in bondage? As the psychologist Carl Jung said, “Whatever does not become conscious, returns to us as fate.” Silence and solitude provides the opportunity we need to do that inner work, to allow God to undo the knots created by our sinful patterns and habits.
As I said moments ago, such self-knowledge is not comfortable. We tend to avoid it at all cost. It is a bit like going to the dentist. The experience is rarely pleasant, but the cost of not going at all can be much more painful and unpleasant. It can also be pretty frightening. God wants to meet us in silence, but it is often the devil that shows up before God! We are assailed by anxiety and by condemnation. He will try his best to draw our attention away from God and onto ourselves, our sins, our short comings, our passions.
This brings us to the third and final benefit of silence I want to share with you. Silence is the battleground for spiritual warfare. In our gospel reading today we see how Jesus battled against Satan in the desert. The devil tries to tempt Jesus. He appeals first to Jesus’ physical hunger, the desires of the flesh. Next he tries to tempt Jesus with riches, the lust of the eyes. Finally he tries to provoke him to some demonstration of his power and divinity. Here Jesus is tempted with the pride of life. Each time, however, Jesus answers Satan with Holy Scripture. This is an example to us. Knowing God’s word is like keeping arrows in our quiver. When the devil attacks us with his lies or tries to lead us astray, we can use God’s word to defend ourselves and put him to flight.
Often times we simply unconsciously and unreflectively absorb the devils lies. We allow his temptations to take us aware. Silence gives up the opportunity to come face to face with the world’s lies and the evils in ourself, to confront Satan and to stand our ground against him.
When we enter into the silence, when we listen for God’s voice, when we examine our heart, when we confront the devil, Jesus is beside us. He entered into the silence and solitude of the desert for our sake, in union with us. Jesus shared our humanity, the weakness and frailty of our mortal nature, he knew all the temptation that we know, and yet he was without sin.
When Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden, they fell, bringing the power of sin and death into the world. We Christ was tempted in the wilderness he emerged victorious. If the first Adam brought weakness and futility to our human nature, Christ the new Adam brings strength and life. When we go down into the dangerous wilderness of silence, let us make Christ our shield and sword and receive the grace that comes from him.