The Capilano Foot Bridge Trail is a 0.8 km moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Edmonton, Alta. Photo from alltrails.com

Glen Argan: Moments of stillness resonate in the soul

By 
  • November 22, 2018

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Your presence during my time of silence. You have given me the human ability to still myself and listen. You have blessed me with freedom from physical or emotional maladies which could hinder my ability to be silent and still. Yet, despite that gift, a million excuses keep me from coming to You.

When I do come, I struggle with my own attention deficits. This thought and that thought disrupt my attempt to be in Your presence. My mind is like a popcorn maker with random ideas, plans and desires erupting in every direction. Despite the exploding popcorn, I encounter You in the silence.

You issue no stirring commands or quiet suggestions during that silence. Your quiet presence is itself a healing balm, a calming force which carries through the day.

A few days ago, I walked across the Capilano Bridge in east Edmonton and looked up the North Saskatchewan River toward downtown. The river flowed slowly on this peaceful mid-November afternoon and few signs of human activity could be seen on the river’s banks. I sensed Your presence in the stillness before me.

Behind me roared the traffic which carried humans about their business or towards home. I cannot cast a negative judgment on the roaring traffic as I too often drive down that road, passing those moving too slowly for my liking. But I do wonder why noisy machines and soaring skyscrapers are deemed to be progress.

Days later, that moment of stillness on the bridge continues to resonate in my soul while the memory of the roaring traffic has receded. Is it because the ever-living God is present in silence while the sensory stimuli of human inventions have no power to endure?

Silence is not the only place where God’s voice can be heard. The Lord can be present in the exuberant chaos of a child’s birthday party, the partisan chants and cheers of 30,000 voices at a sporting event, and the sharing of insights and differing perspectives at a group planning session. Humans were created to be in relationship with each other as well as with God.

Nevertheless, something is lost if we never retreat into silence. Constant noise and chatter witness to an unreflective existence where meaning fails to take shape, but is simply absorbed from the most powerful voices in our midst. Silence, whether found through lectio divina, meditative praying of the rosary or patient waiting for God, is where we come to know that the voices of pompous rulers, commercial advertising and the 24/7 news cycle will pass in the night while the word of God remains firm.

“His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Such treasuring of the Word enabled Mary to walk with God, walk with her Son, and to understand that both walks were the same journey.

They are the same walk, not only because Jesus is the Son of God, but because the journey is one imbued with divine love. This is more than an inner awareness or an inner emptying. Thomas Keating, the father of centring prayer, once wrote, “The goal of contemplative prayer is not so much the emptiness of thoughts or conversation as the emptiness of self.” The great Christian mystics all say something similar.

The self is emptied because it is abandoned to God. Insofar as one is able to abandon self, it is because one loves God who is love personified. The prayer of silence then is not a self-centred turning of one’s back on creation, but rather a loving embrace of all that God has given.

True love always overflows. The love of husband and wife overflows into the procreation of children and ultimately into a love of all those on whom society has rejected. Such love is not exclusive because love always reaches out further and further. Mary praised the God who “lifted up the lowly (and) filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). Her praise of God reveals a love that knows no boundaries, that forever reaches out to the margins.

The ability to be with God in silence is a gift, but a gift that calls forth from us action that loves the poor and seeks justice. This is not an ideology but the core of our faith. By nurturing silence, love grows. And that maturing love means a better life for us and for all.

(Glen Argan is a writer and editor who lives in Edmonton.)

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