“Into the Silent Land” – Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus orders the unclean spirit to come out of a possessed man. “Be silent!” Jesus is given credit as being one who teaches with authority because of this, and other, actions. The crowds say of Jesus in today’s Gospel, What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Elsewhere in the Gospels, we hear that Jesus commands the stormy waters. He brings about peace in the hearts of terrified disciples. Who is this who is able to bring a calming silence – to our anxious hearts, to our worries and fears, to warring factions both within and outside us?

I live these days in a very quiet environment – a retreat centre and Jesuit community surrounded by more than twenty acres of land. My window looks out on a bucolic setting. The property is at the dead end of a not-very-busy street. My window is at the back of the house, so I don’t even get the noises of the trucks delivering food and supplies.

I sometimes miss the constant noise of the city. I can spend days without venturing into the city. When I do head in, I last a few hours before I am desperate to get back to the quiet of this place. That’s not how I first experienced the place. I thought that I would go crazy with the silence. But now, I’ve become quite at peace with living in a retreat-like environment.

When I find myself missing noise and constant activity, I can head to the Starbucks a couple of kilometers away. Two hours later, I’ve had it with the constant noise.

It’s an ironic fact that my regular location for writing for igNation in its first few years was actually Starbucks and other places where people gather in our culture. I would leave the quiet space of my office in order to find extroverted stimulation. Now I wonder how I was even able to think. How we change!

A great deal has been said about the noises in our culture. A great deal has also been offered about the internal noises in our heads and hearts. Pope Benedict XVI described this as well as anyone:

“We live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with initiatives, activity, sound; often there is not even time to listen and dialogue… Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God’s voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others.”

I find myself wondering how I can find the ideal combination of silence and chatter.

I’ve been reading two works from Martin Laird, an Augustinian priest. Reading is the wrong word. I can read a paragraph or a page and find myself in a place of peace and contemplation. Into the Silent Land and A Sunlit Absence both deal with the Christian practice of contemplation. They help me to reflect on the place of silence in my life and how at ease or not at ease I am with the silence. What is your relationship to silence?

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All photos courtesy of Brendan McManus, SJ

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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