Faith matters – Quietude


15 Aug 2018

It seems as though Western society has reached a crossroad that will determine the future direction of our society. Survey after survey indicate that we are working beyond our limits and the balance required to feel content is not attainable. No matter what industry is investigated, in our society people feel there is not enough time and too much is being asked.

Compounding this trend, family life has also changed. It has added to the ‘work’ completed each day. No longer do children participate in their favourite sport or activity and learn an instrument. Today, children from pre-school onward participate in multiple sports, learn an instrument and complete ‘homework’ of various kinds on a weekly basis. Life can seem chaotic and rushed.

For families, what suffers is the sense of togetherness. Although families may be at the same place, the connection being experienced is often not personal. Many parents are involved as a volunteer in schools, sporting clubs and community groups. Because of this, it may seem that the predominant role of a parent today is as a support member who also serves as a taxi service, rather than a parent who loves and is present.

I remember that I did much less than my children do today. In particular, I remember feeling bored from time to time. Although I didn’t enjoy it then, today I reflect it has served me well.

Being bored roughly translates to not having anything that immediately requires attention and that the people and objects around you do not provide the stimulus required to move into an activity that fills the feeling of boredom.

Boredom, may more correctly be defined by the word silence. Silence is multidimensional and can be experienced either positively or negatively. When we feel bored the silence is bleak. We are agitated and feel a need to fill the silence. The silence may be literal or metaphorical. When we find we have no plans and that nothing on offer can entertain us we experience a form of silence. In our society today, I note this is a rare experience. After all, if you find yourself in such a situation social media and any number of entertainment streaming platforms are designed to ensure that there is always something to occupy your attention.

Therefore, we must conclude that literal silence is what our society has lost. A period where distractions are removed and we truly enter in silence. We seem so busy there is never a moment to stop, let alone experience silence without making a concerted effort. The practice of mindfulness is making inroads and offers society a simplistic practice that is secular and achieves the goal of bringing the attention to the present moment. It is in experiencing the present moment we experience the silence we need to balance our busy lives.

Mindfulness is attractive as a meditative practice as it can be completed through contemplation or in action and is thus adaptable. Because of this, it is more accessible to people in their daily lives than more formal methods. Through the practice of mindfulness, we are beginning to reclaim a practice that predates civilisation itself and is authentically human.

As religions developed over time, the practice of meditation was a normal and not religious as such. Similarly, spirituality was intertwined with daily life and in a reciprocal manner strengthened meditation as meditation strengthened a person’s spirituality. Through experience and enlightenment humans developed deeper understandings in accordance with revealed truths and theology came to be. To support these new concepts, rituals and doctrines were developed to assist people so that they might live a holistic life. However, our capacity to reason and analyse became the lens from which all life and human endeavour is viewed and because of this the spiritual, including religion moved to the periphery of life, especially in the Western world.

In spite of this, there is good news. Through our Tradition we can reclaim what has been lost in practising mindfulness. Mindfulness can help us in a simple way experience the silence that we need. By focusing on the present moment we can reclaim the balance. When we sit with the silence, we will also glimpse the movement of God in and around us. Although mindfulness is a secular practice, it’s inherently spiritual for those of faith. When we sit in the silence, we experience that moment within ourselves, externally and in communion with God.

The earliest Christian communities developed an awareness of life that we in the modern world have forgotten. What is lost can be reclaimed and is ours as sons and daughters of God. An ancient mystic known as John the Solitary was a hermit monk who taught that:

“God is silence, and in silence is he sung by means of that psalmody which is worthy of Him…… There is a silence of the tongue, there is a silence of the whole body, there is a silence of the soul, there is the silence of the mind, and there is the silence of the spirit.”

Silence is God and silence is the worthy praise of Him! When we enter into silence, we find that it has depth. Silence is not that lack of sound. Silence, when experienced, is better defined as quietude; a state of calmness and quiet. By being mindful and experiencing the present moment in the silence we worship God who is present with us and as John the Solitary taught we offer the true prayer that is worthy of Him—complete attention and connectedness in and through silence.

Saint Ignatius in his own way teaches the same. Although unless we can reclaim the silence and the time required, we may not be able to engage in his practices and receive the benefits they offer. As we seek to move towards a deeper experience of Ignatius’ methods we might begin by using mindfulness to reclaim some of what has been lost and build into our day the opportunity to develop it further. Building a habit that we can use as a base is the beginning from which we can proceed to bring about more silence and allow God to be with us intentionally. Inspired by this we then have the opportunity to go further and Ignatius offers us a way to do so.

As society grapples with the challenges of work-life balance, in a world so different from even a decade ago, we are comforted knowing that we can make a change. Through the practise of mindfulness each person has a tool that is accessible, achievable and mischievously open to the presence of God. When we enter the silence we find him effortlessly and are drawn deeper and deeper into his love. In making time to be mindful we can become more spiritual and positively seek what we may in the past have viewed as boredom. Boredom is of course not simple silence it is the lack of attention to the present. In the present we experience life and all that is truly real.

I wish you well as you work to bring about the balance in life that is needed and encourage you to begin wherever you are comfortable and are able to make the time for. Mindfulness can and should be embraced, as it will bring about a positive outcome and whet your appetite for more. The ‘more’ we will then seek is the presence of God whom we were born into through Baptism.

Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.
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