Thursday, November 20, 2008

Silence and Solitude in Bonhoeffer and Foster

Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone. Because they cannot stand loneliness, they are driven to seek the company of other people. There are Christians, too, who cannot endure being alone, who have had some bad experiences with themselves, who hope they will gain some help in association with others. They are generally disappointed. Then they blame the fellowship for what is really their own fault. … The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear. He is really not seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time…. (Life Together, 76, online here)

Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude. ... Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they are inane. ...But loneliness or clatter are not our only alternatives. We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment. Solitude is not first a place but a state of mind and heart. It is quite possible to be a desert hermit and never experience solitude. But if we possess inward solitude we will not fear being alone, for we know that we are not alone. Neither do we fear being with others, for they do not control us.

Without silence there is no solitude. Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech it always involves the act of listening. Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God, is not silence. One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent who will take control? God will take control; but we never let Him take control until we trust Him. Silence is intimately related to trust. (Celebration of Discipline, 84, 86, 88)

Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing. But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails.

The day needs definite times of silence, silence under the Word and silence that comes out of the Word. These will especially be times before and after hearing the Word. The Word comes not to the chatterer but to him who holds his tongue. The stillness of the temple is a sign of the holy presence of God in His Word. (Life Together, 79, online here)

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