The Spirituality of Slowing Down and Shutting Up
The word “addict” may conjure images of a disheveled drug-user. But relatively few people are addicted to drugs. However, judging by the way we drive, the way we zone out on mobile devices (even when surrounded by friends), and the way we distract ourselves with multiple forms of media, it seems many of us are in the addictive grip of noise and hurry.
An addiction’s power resides in the lies it tells us.
On the surface certain stimuli look pleasurable. And they do in fact provide a moment of pleasure or numbness or distraction. But addictive powers are dehumanizing and soul-destroying. Addicts lose the ability to self-regulate and eventually the stimulus gains mastery over their lives. Everything in an addict’s life is negatively altered. Relationships with family, friends, God—they all suffer.
Everyone would agree that alcoholism and compulsive gambling are destructive. But what about noise and hurry? Most of assume noise and hurry to be just a part of life. But are they really benign, unavoidable realities? Or do they have the same life-destroying, idolatrous power as drugs and alcohol? I believe they do. And just like other addictions, they damage our relationships, especially our relationship with God.
The spiritual practices of being silent and slowing down are the way out of this trap. They have the potential to restore a rich and intimate relationship with God.
The right kind of rest
The deepest contentment is not derived from external excitement, but through inward rest. Yet we’re constantly told to “rest” by cultivating a heightened state of excitement. But constant audio and visual input pushes God to the margins. Over-stimulation shakes our lives like an Etch-A-Sketch, making God disappear.
On the other hand, silence and slowing down create space for God. Silence removes the fear-based distractions we compulsively turn to. Silence allows us to deal with our inner chaos. It provides the conditions for repentance, conversion, and growth.
Removing ourselves from addicted lives of connection, production, and consumption is unnerving—and that is the surest sign we need it! You might say, “I would die if I eliminated noise and hurry from my life!” True—you would die. You would die to a life marked by the deception of distraction. But in turn, as diversions disappear, you would find God again and human life as God intended it to be.
In silence and slowing down we learn that we will survive, indeed thrive, as we cease activity. We gain the trust to take a break from our work and stop distracting ourselves through entertainment. Silence is perhaps the best nourishment for a deep and dynamic relationship with God.
Silencing the church
Our church is located in Orange County, a place hardly known for silence and solitude. Yet together we are employing the spiritual practices of quietness, contemplation, and silence. And it’s working. We’re seeing deliverance from addictive powers and witnessing people transformed into the likeness of Christ. The momentum is building and more people are seeing the power and beauty of shutting up and experiencing God.
But, yes, we get some resistance. We’ve learned the hard way that silence is not intuitive. People have said, “You are asking us to slow down too fast.” We have discovered that what we think of as the gift of silence can feel to others like an unanticipated disturbance of the soul. An inner world that has not been examined for a long while can be a scary place to go. We’ve found we need to ease people into silence. We need to walk with them as they cultivate these practices so they do not feel alone. We’ve learned to gently urge worshippers to take stock of their inner lives and train them to sense God’s presence and love.
This is not some newfangled ministry technique. Ultimately cultivating silence and slowing down is simply about nurturing our souls and connecting with God. Now that’s something to talk about.
Todd Hunter is the founding pastor of Holy Trinity Anglican in Costa Mesa, California.