Silence as a spiritual exercise; day 21 of Ramadan

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I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.” – Chaim Potok

Communication as you know isn’t only in what you say, how you say it, but in your body language, and to a certain extent in your silence.
Silence, it can be very unnerving to be intentionally quiet for a period of time; we check our watches, we scan our surroundings, we pick up the odd behaviors of others and figure out its pattern, we can’t sit still for very long…and so on.

Silence is one of those things that, if we can help it, we avoid like the plague. I think that the reason why it’s so difficult to do is because our cultures are ones that don’t intentionally allow for it; sure we might have moments in our places of worship and in our times of prayer where we’re quieter but truly silent…no noise or sound whatsoever…how many of us intentionally do that on a regular basis?

I got a taste of that on a corporate level when I went to a Quaker meeting a few months ago, and while I haven’t gone back it the intentionality of silence still resonates within me. I admit, I do not do well with long periods of silence, I fidget and find myself looking at my watch all too often.
I am aware that with some religious groups there are those who take vows of silence and I shudder to think if that was something I was to undertake. Not that I don’t think that I couldn’t, but it would be akin to the “quiet game” parents play with their kids when they want some silence; the clock ticks and talking happens and there’s a feeling of starting over, rinse and repeat several times over… I wouldn’t want to break the silence if I had to undertake a vow of silence, but I know it would be incredibly difficult for me to be that quiet for a long period. It also makes me wonder, do they build up to that moment or do they just stop talking cold turkey?

Still, silence from a good place in someone’s life is sacred and noble. Silence speaks louder than words sometimes and sometimes it’s the best thing we can communicate with others when they’re going through a rough patch of life. I know from personal experience that some of the best moments of healing in my life came from people in my life who opted to sit in the silence with me rather than extend some advice to me. Yes there’s a time and a place for giving others advice provided they’re asking for it, but there’s also a time and a place where silence needs to happen for the good of all who are involved.

So with all that being said, silence was my keyword on the 21th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God, The One Who Is Never Silent, who speaks to us in the loudness of life but also within the silence. May we take time to sit in our own silence as well as the silence of others, to be not to do.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Walking as a spiritual exercise; day 5 of Ramadan

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Day 5 of Ramadan’s Suhur was great! A protein shake, fresh fruit, God & I, the sunrise. I proceeded to get ready for my day of work, as it so happened my students were back in the classroom because the summer term had started.

The teacher I work under unpackaged to my students what the summer term would look like, and I already see that it’s going to be a great time of learning and having fun! One of the things I appreciate doing with my students outside of the classroom apart from the usual basketball / softball, and as of late Frisbee, is walking. It’s very enjoyable to go outside with my students to walk. Sometimes our walking is done over talking; they like to pick my mind, I like to listen, they like to find out more about me, and I like to find out more about them and their dreams and aspirations beyond school.

It so happened that one of my students wanted to go walking, and I was more than willing to go on a walk with him. Our conversations were sparse, he wanted to get out and be and I admit, so did I. But there’s something to be said about non-verbal communication and presence; it’s very important and can be very helpful ton one’s self to delve into one’s own psyche for a while.

I know I will have more opportunities to walk with my students, and sometimes it’ll be like the other day where it was quiet for the most part, but there will be days when the conversation is verbal and continuous. I embrace it all and celebrate in the fact that I am among the living, doing what I can to be the best version of me and being present mind / body / soul in a job in the field that I am. It isn’t always easy, but I know God will sustain me as I help others out to the best of my abililty.

So with all that being said, walking was my keyword on the 5th day of Ramadan. Thanks me to God for being present as we walk through this life. For we are all interconnected to God inasmuch as we are interconnected with one another. May we learn to walk through this life together in solidarity with one another.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

Church incognito; of silence and community, my experience at a Friends Meeting (Quakers)

Now prior to attending a Quaker service on April 12th, my knowledge of them was very limited. I knew they were prone to be progressive and peaceful, prone to social justice both in small and large ways. With that in mind I decided to go to the one nearest me.

As I got to the door I was greeted warmly and was handed a pamphlet about Quakers. I was encouraged to attend the church meeting as I was a bit early for the service. The meeting addressed some financial issues, and after that a call to silence occurred, and what was lively discussion quickly became collective quiet.

Quietness, sheer quietness. It reminded me to a certain extent John Cage’s 4’33 piece, but there was something sacred to it that I was unfamiliar with on a larger scale.

The silence was broken by a handshake, and it became mutual and communal. I met a good portion of those gathered as there were less than 30 people gathered for the meeting. We gathered together outside the sanctuary, they were curious as to my interest and I divulged to them this project, they were glad that I was there and I could feel it too and it was not a shallow feeling in the slightest.

After having engaged those around me, I took some time to be on my own in the form of reading over the titles on their many bookshelves. A lot of the books I have read or have some knowledge of; progressive Christianity books alongside books by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, my kind of library!

***
Shortly there after the service started, a service that didn’t involve singing but rather praying and meditating and mindfulness all in silence. I was aware of this in advance, and as their website puts it;

“Our Meeting is based on silent worship. It is

possible that no one will speak during the entire

meeting. Anyone is free to speak if he or she feels

moved to it by a leading from the Light within. Each

message will help someone, but our needs differ. If

the message does not “speak to your condition,” try

to reach the spirit behind the words. We maintain

silence for at least a few minutes after vocal

ministry to give time for a message to reach a quiet

center.”

I adapted to this style quickly…albeit too quickly, as I found myself listening to nature outside and the grumblings of stomach inside (mine as well as others). My thoughts found its center time and time again, but I admit I grew internally restless because I am unaccustomed to such a service. I mentally made note of the congregation makeup; one kid, two adults close to my age, and a lot of people in their mid 50s and older. More women than men, and all seemed content to be there.

At the 53rd minute of the service, a woman stood up and talked about wildflowers and faith, how sometimes it is visible to ourselves and others, and other times it lays dormant. And yet it is there even if we don’t see it. It was beautiful and simple, and she was the only one who spoke during the service. It started in silence and ended with communal handshakes.

After the service we gathered in the dining hall to partake in banana bread, fruit, and cookies. I met even more people and they too wanted to hear about my church incognito project. I took time to listen as much as I could, and I talked about what being a Quaker means to them.

I realized from the individuals I talked to when I posed the question “what does being a Quaker mean to you?” that a lot of them resonated with the mysterious nature of God, the part of God that cannot fully be grasped. They were okay to live in the unknown-ness and it caused no distress to them. I also gathered that a lot of them were first generation Quakers coming from mostly Catholic church backgrounds.

I talked a great deal to one woman in particular because as we got to talking it became evident that we’re in the same work field! It was interesting to hear about her perspectives and experiences, and what she hoped to imprint upon others and integrate into her practice.

The Quakers I spent time with were wonderful, hospitable people. Not only to I the visitor but to each other, tending to the needs of each other out of love in the context of community. It was good to engage in their core values, but more importantly to see them in action because that is what matters most, faith in action.

~Nathanael~

Listening to God

Earlier today I was very hungry, but the thing is sometimes what my body should eat isn’t necessarily what I feed it, with that being said I had a lunch of cheese and tater tots…which due to eating the latter I am still feel greasy and queasy. But at the time my mind and stomach were telling me that’s what I want that’s what I want feed me tots feed me tots…so I gave in (and trust me, it ain’t good to be shopping while hungry).

So while I did only buy tater tots, which I was rather surprised with my restraint for what it’s worth, my stomach was busy doing its thing when it’s hungry, but I had this insight while waiting to check out…

I think that sometimes in Christian circles we tend to throw out the “Has God been speaking to you lately?” question, sometimes it is from the intent of being earnest but at times I  feel like it’s a spiritual badge of honor, that by God speaking to you shows whether you’re a “good” or even “real” follower of Christ. Yet I wonder…

What if we’re asking the wrong question?

What if the question we should ask (for the right reasons mind you) is “Have you been listening to God lately?” Instead of waiting around for some sacred interruption to take place…what if we just took time to shut up and be still before God, instead of busting out with “Thanksgiving prayers” with $50 words…what if we just remained silent?

I do think God can speak to us even in our busiest of times, but sometimes I think we need the silence despite how difficult it is sometimes, I mean silence is silence which in its own way is deafening at times…but I think we need it, God knows I need a reprieve of noise, a shutting out of the cacophonous nature of life at times.

I’m not spelling out a formulaic way of a spiritual life, but I am saying that sometimes we need to get away from it all and put in some God-and-I time, because if it comes down to having a relationship with him, how many relationships can be truly healthy if the couple don’t have time to themselves apart from everyone else? If a couple’s livelihood is based upon everyone else, that can only go on for so long, that can only sustain itself for so long.

“God still speaks” is sometimes seen outside of United Church of Christ churches, and I wholeheartedly agree, God does still speak…but I believe that we should give him the space to speak and sometimes that does in fact come from being silent.

~Nathanael~