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On Silence and Losing Control (A Lenten Reflection)

Posted by  on February 15, 2013

Like most students, I didn’t know exactly what I was signing up for when I decided to take a class on St. Thomas Aquinas last spring. We were going to read part of the Summa, specifically focusing on his account of the virtues and vices—that much I knew. Understanding this medieval thinker was probably going to be difficult work—that, I also knew. What I wasn’t expecting was that our professor would have us engage in spiritual disciplines that would expose my weaknesses and challenge me in ways that few classes ever did.

Throughout the semester, we practiced spiritual disciplines in tandem with the scheduled reading. During the week that we covered the virtue of charity, we memorized 1 Corinthians 13. When we read about the vice of gluttony, we fasted. When we read what Thomas had to say about the vice of vainglory, we practiced silence. These simple practices changed and illuminated the way in which we experienced the topics we were reading about. Moreover, they nicely reinforced and overlapped with the season of Lent. Each week, we (including the professor, because she was doing the practices also!) kept a journal and recorded the impact that the practices were having on us.

I remember the practice of silence being particularly challenging. We had been reading about the vice of vainglory, which is the excessive desire for attention and approval from others. In practicing silence, we didn’t cease talking altogether (on a college campus that would be virtually impossible) but only talked when it was absolutely necessary. When others talked to us, we would do our best to deflect all attention away from ourselves, our desires, our plans etc.

Practicing silence made me learn new things about myself. Now that I wasn’t able to talk about myself so much (e.g. complaining about my day, bragging about an accomplishment), I realized how much I was captive to doing that very thing. I liked to show off to others, especially on Facebook. As a philosophy student, I liked to win arguments and get the last word in a debate. More importantly, engaging in this discipline made me realize how little I genuinely listened to others. Conversations seemed so different when I wasn’t in control.

I wonder how many of our difficult conversations in the church, such as the one on science and faith, are characterized by our desire to dominate the conversation? Do we spend a sufficient amount of time listening to those we disagree with? Do we always feel the need to get the last word? Lent is a good season to engage in practices that expose the bad habits sometimes hidden within us. These practices are like medicine that helps us on the path of sanctification. I entered my class seeking to master information. I left learning more about my disordered desires and about how that impacted my education and my life.

 

Daniel Camacho

Daniel Camacho is a Junior Fellow of The Colossian Forum and is responsible for research, blogging, editorial work and writing. He hails from Long Island, New York and grew up in a Spanish-speaking United Methodist church. Daniel is a senior at Calvin College majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Church, Society and Ministry from the Congregational and Ministry Studies department. Some of his research interests include hermeneutics, ecclesiology, theological anthropology and political theology. Besides reading, he can be found playing volleyball and holding out hope for his New York sports teams. This past summer, Daniel completed a ministry internship at Open Door Fellowship of East Harlem. He is currently discerning a call to serve in ministry and higher education, and plans to attend seminary after college.


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  • Fred Jacobs

    Hello Daniel,

    I find your post very interesting, and even thinking about doing the silence challenge makes me a bit uncomfortable… Would you recommend I try this, or do you think it is pointless if I don’t follow the class [i.e. get the information]. Let me know please because I feel I’m in the same stage you describe yourself in before you took the class. God bless you!!

    • Daniel Camacho

      Hey Fred!

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think it is pointless at all to try to practice silence without taking a formal class. Silence is a spiritual discipline that can help us in our walk with Christ and it can be practiced by anyone. With that said, experience and guidance does not hurt. There are many free online sources that talk about the spiritual discipline of silence (including practical tips). Some classic treatments by Christian authors include: Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (section on solitude), Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (section on the day alone), Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton (and many other works by Merton).

      For a book that talks about the spiritual disciplines within the context of the vices see: Glittering Vices by Rebecca DeYoung.

      Hope this helps!

      Grace and Peace.

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