Silence, listening hearts motivate prayerful response

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 3, 2011

Last week’s column on composer John Cage’s piece celebrating four minutes 33 seconds of silence drew some truly inspiring responses. As Cochrane coffee companion Lorraine Champagne wrote, “I do love the notion of listening with heart and silence.”

One response, in particular, addressed an encounter with silence that motivated a law-enforcement officer to become a police chaplain and co-founder of a stillness retreat for other officers.

Before I go there, however, here are a few other comments I received:

Rev. Fred Monk, writing from Bow Island, agreed that Cage’s composition highlights society’s addiction to distraction.

“We are, indeed, a ‘plugged-in’ society,” the former pastor of  St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cochrane wrote. “So much so, that we spend more time these days with gadgets than with people and, as a result, we have little time to reflect on our lives, because we are too busy reacting to the noise (e-mails, texts, music, etc.). Our world is gradually becoming ‘unglued’ because we refuse to ‘unplug.’”

To this Edmonton coffee companion Colleen Chapman added:

“I have often thought that headphones, iPods, and all of the techy things we use today have the same effect that addictions to alcohol and drugs have. They ensure that relationship is impaired, if not destroyed.”

Although she admits to her own addiction to her “‘Crack’berry,” as she puts it, she restricts its use pretty much to day-to-day appointments.

For her, a cure for destructive gadget-induced alienation is an active prayer life. “I find that I listen with my heart much more easily if I remember to ask to live my day in love,” she said.

Then there’s this note from relationships and sustainable communities educator Stella Riesen, a familiar face up and down the Bow Valley. On the importance of silence, she wrote:

“I agree. Without silence, there would be a cacophony of senseless sound. Silence is that brief pause when it allows our brain to process: what it just heard, what it just remembered, how events connect, etc. Out of silence, we face our fears, our worries. And in that silence, we can produce our greatest works.”

Stella is especially concerned about mental health issues. In this regard, like Colleen, she sees times of prayerful contemplation as essential.

“People seem to forget that even Christ and the saints secluded themselves from others in the silence of the wilderness. After having done so, they came back more wondrous than ever.”

Her thoughts lead quite nicely to our feature letter of the week.

Jim Amsing, of Bragg Creek, is a semi-retired officer with the Calgary Police Service and co-founder of Diakonos Retreat Society, a provider of refuge for police, fire and military personnel where they can deal with stress and life’s storms in a quiet, supportive atmosphere.

He’s also a chaplain whose motivation is grounded in one of my favourite verses in the Bible, Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

“Psalm 46:10 gives us a starting point in our quest to know the meaning and purpose God has in our life,” Jim wrote.

“This passage continues to challenge me because being still enough to listen to the still and quiet voice of a God who wants an intimate relationship with me is difficult. We are so distracted by what happened yesterday, what may happen today, and what may be tomorrow, we can’t be still in the present.”

God seemed to be pursuing him with this verse, Jim said, first while on a silent retreat some years ago at the Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre in Cochrane, and repeatedly in a series of subsequent engagements.

“When I was working as a police officer, this stillness in God allowed me to hear His voice to save my life and the lives of others in many deadly-force encounters. Ultimately, it led to my vocation as a police chaplain.

“Being still enough to know and hear the word of God means creating space in our lives for stillness, for in the stillness we can know peace, serenity and hope, and move confidently forward into the ever-expanding reality of our loving Father.”

Thanks, Jim and all who wrote in.

Moving on now to other thoughts on silence and the listening heart – especially in relation to cultural, social justice and leadership issues – just as there are times when the sound of silence ought not to be interrupted, just as surely there are other times when our hearts cry out to break the sound of silence.

As ancient wisdom reminds us, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”

More about this in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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