I remember the first time I spent 36 hours in absolute silence. It was a decade ago at a retreat with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, at a conference center outside of Baltimore. It was jarring to unplug from the noise of the world around me. However, the greater shock was to confront the noise within.
We live in a world that thrives off noise: talking pundits telling us who to be afraid of; social media soothsayers convincing us that the best way to stay connected is to stare at a screen rather than look people in the eyes; parents fixated on filling every second of their child’s schedule rather than helping them learn to sit, be still and savor life.
Day after day, I visit with people who are tired — not just physically tired at the end of the week, but soul-tired. They describe to me how their soul is heavy, weighed down by the pressures we are all facing.
We need to pay more attention to our souls, not in the sense of making sure we “get to go to heaven” but in the sense of living faithful lives infused with God’s presence here and now. Jesus doesn’t want us to escape. Jesus wants us to live whole lives. “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near,” the Christian scriptures describe. Pay attention.
It is time that we do some deep soul work as a community. It is time that we say “no” to the illusion of the zero-sum game some are selling. It is time that we reject the hypercompetitive and fear-driven messages we hear. It is time that we realize how we are being manipulated to fear “the other” so a few can profit off our anger.
The wisdom of Christianity — and the compassionate heart of the world’s major faiths — remind us that we are called to experience the heart of love. Jesus came to give us a spirit of love rather than a spirit of fear.
The contemplative tradition for 2,000 years that has nourished the practice of Christianity teaches us that this soul work is done in silence. Our souls can be healed when we quiet ourselves and seek to move beyond our fixation on our thinking mind and rest in our hearts.
In this silence of soul healing, in this space of the heart, we experience the deep work of Easter. What we celebrate in the Paschal Feast is the truth that our lives are reconciled in Christ. The painful, suffering and shortsighted parts of ourselves are weaved into the healing grace of God’s love. We are made whole. We remember that the root of “salvation” means wholeness, not escape.
While our culture may focus on the colors, light, bells and celebration of Easter services, the deep work was done in the silence of the tomb. In that space, Jesus entered into those broken parts of ourselves and reconciled them to God’s love. “He descended to the dead,” we say in our creed. Jesus was not one to support escaping from pain and suffering; rather, he showed us what it means to be redeemed in and through them.
Jesus is a trailblazer of the soul. This is why the entire spectrum of Holy Week is vital to understanding just what Christianity is all about.
In the silent spaces of our lives, we can connect more deeply to God and to one another. As the old saying goes, “God gave us mouths that close and ears that do not. We should take the hint.”
At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 15, we will share just a time of silence in an encounter at Grace Episcopal Church. We are inviting any who are interested to come and share a time of silence together, in the hope that this shared silence will nurture the way we engage with one another. Sit in silence. Listen with your heart. Share with compassion.
Reconciliation is possible because God tells us it is, and God is trustworthy. As a community, we are constantly given the opportunity to step into these deeper spaces of soul work, into these times of silence and reconciliation. I pray that we might have the courage.
The Rev. Stuart Higginbotham is the rector at Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Gainesville.