I’ve been refurbishing my office over the past few months, and so one of the tasks I’ve taken on is reviewing my old journals. Most of them I’m content to simply leave tucked away in the corner of the closet where they’ve been sitting for a while.
But the other day I came across a journal I kept from November 1985 to December 1986. I was 24 when I began it, and had just turned 26 when I wrote the last entry. So basically, a record of my 25th year. At the time, I was learning the basics of contemplative spirituality from working with my first spiritual director and taking several classes from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.
I don’t think there’s anything earth-shattering here; most of the journal entries display the kind of immaturity one might expect from a spiritual beginner in his mid-20s. Still, I was delighted at how self-aware some of my entries were, and how even at that young age I was already aware of the mystery at the heart of silent prayer.
So, this may be entirely self-indulgent, and if so, please forgive me. But if you’d like a glimpse into the mind of an aspiring contemplative from nearly 35 year ago, here are some posts for your consideration.
November 16, 1985
Chanting in a community takes me out of myself. I feel part of a greater whole, as my voice unites with the voices of everyone in the group. Music operates in the same way — instruments combine so that the symphony is great than all its parts.
Music, at its finest, points directly toward Joy — and through music I’ve experienced some of my clearest apprehensions of Joy. During my first year of college, listening to the Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis, my room — a drab cinderblock chamber — suddenly contained all eternity.
November 23, 1985
Rootedness — Radical
Silence is the only soil in which my spiritual formation can take root — or at least the primary soil — yet silence is so elusive, so shy and difficult to simply be in… Either Teresa or John of the Cross said that, in fifteen minutes of prayer, fourteen minutes were spent in distraction — certainly my experience also!
Yet — that silence is so precious — so fruitful — that the fourteen distracted minutes proves a small price to pay.
Images — cataphatic experiences — can be exciting, consoling, affirming — yet the apophatic way is the more nurturing path. Silence and emptiness: radical.
November 24, 1985
Silence is a presence; and in silence is the presence of God.
Silence as presence can be explored in a variety of ways: through chanting, the use of a mantra, concentration on breath, or — as I practice tonight — the simply deliberate clearing of verbal thought from the mind — without even closing my eyes.
Silence’s depth is subtle, filled with nuances and divers tints. The more I explore silence, the more vital, real, nurturing, it becomes to me.
Someone once said that death is the greatest silence. But even the silence of death screams when placed alongside the silence of eternity… a silence we can begin to explore right now.
November 25, 1985
“In Silence and in Trust is your Strength.”
These words of God to Isaiah are a marvelous example of how upside down the pursuit of spiritual formation can be. In a competitive, nuclear-powered world, who could ever equate silence and trust with strength?
Yet evidence of the wisdom of these words begins here and now in the “real world.”
The technological world is a world filled with stress; silence is a deep, holistic, creative response to stress. Silence is for the mind what a massage is for the body.
Plus there are spiritual benefits but those are subtle. I’ll let them describe themselves, organically, over time.