I’m not a stranger to the idea of silence. I enjoy reading about the spiritual discipline of silence and reveling in descriptive essays from those who have embarked on their own silent retreats and moments of meditation. I appreciate the silent moments found in worship: in the tolling of the bells, the pauses in prayers, the breathing together in song, and the contemplation at the communion table. Silence is something I aspire for in my life – or at least a few moments of quiet. It’s just the practice of silence seems impossible for me. I have two children under 4 in my house.
The days are most definitely not silent.
The mornings begin with the chatter of the preschooler and the cries of the toddler. The dog’s paws can be heard barreling down the hallway. I awake to sounds needing attention. With cries of hunger and urgency we begin our day and gather around the table. “O’s, o’s, o’s, please,” the toddler yells.
“I want milk please,” says my daughter. Then the clanging of pots as she grabs the biggest one to make oatmeal. “I help Mama make oatmeal.”
Around the table our prayers are interrupted by who wants what and who took what from whom. We all say amen together. As soon as we sit someone needs something. Or a book is being thrown on the table to read while we eat. “This, this poem, Mama!” We eat and listen to poetry. That’s a form of spiritual discipline, right?
But not silence.
I’m not a stranger to the idea of silence, just it’s practice. I’ve always desired to incorporate more silence into my life. I know I could get up before anyone else in the house. I could carve out time alone in the early morning hours. I could also take time at night to sit in silence. I could utilize the quiet house as children sleep. For so long I thought that I had to have the “perfect” spot to take moments of silence. I wanted that perfect room decorated with just the right calming colors and the inspirational quote on the wall. I wanted a space just for me. A space with the walls lined with all the books I’ve read on silence and prayer. A space with comfortable blankets and pillows. A place that would just say sit in silence.
Yet, I never seem to have that perfect place. So, in all my thoughts of how I thought the space should be for sitting in silence, I failed to actually take part in the act of silence.
I’m not a stranger to the idea of silence, just it’s practice.
Here we are in the new year and here I am still desiring silence in my life. A seminary professor once told me sometimes a desire for more contemplative practices in your life is enough. Sometimes the act of wanting them will eventually lead to action. And sometimes we just need to rest in our desire.
I’ve done enough resting and waiting.
So for the month of January I’ve been moving towards a practice of silence. (I hesitate to even write this as I’m not one who’s good at follow through…) But now that we’re about halfway through the month of January I can say that I’m beginning to not be a complete stranger to the practice of silence. It turns out that the perfect space I’ve been waiting for is whatever space I decide to sit down in for the moment.
In our living room with toys scattered around me.
In our bedroom with the noise machine turned on.
I close my eyes. I take a few deep breaths. I sit. I think. I worry. I wonder about the next day. I make to-do lists in my head. I try to gently put the thoughts away for a moment. Repeat.
Yet it’s a start. One night after another, once the kids are asleep and before I’m utterly exhausted, I take a few moments and sit in silence.
You could call it meditation, contemplation, or deep breathing. The name isn’t as important as the fact that I’m practicing silence. Hoping that over the next days and weeks silence will become more of a friend than a stranger.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, MO. You can read more at her website: http://kimberlyknowlezeller.com or follow her work on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KimberlyKnowleZeller/