One Day of Silence and Solitude | Part 3
It’s coming up now on 7:30. I’m hungry. Maybe I should fast from food and feast on the nourishment my soul is enjoying right now. The word “should” is my tip-off. Yielding to shoulds that compete with holy desire is legalism; it creates pressure and pride. And, the other side, yielding to desires on the naïve assumption that the new covenant has eliminated all wrong desire is dangerous. But pleasures of any sort not explicitly forbidden that can be enjoyed in the conscious presence of God are holy and good, and should, in the best sense of that word, be enjoyed.
Dinner was good. I enjoyed the pleasure of eating. If I enjoyed cigars, I might light up right now. No, I guess I wouldn’t. Room 419 is a non-smoking room. And I don’t understand the appeal of cigars anyway, no more than I understand the appeal of a cold beer. Wine, yes. Cigars and beer, no.
It’s a little past 9. I’m tired. A few closing reflections that I sense bubbling to the surface and off to bed.
- Two thoughts from Augustine come to mind. Both were mentioned yesterday at the conference. God, Augustine wrote, “increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us.” That happened today. Here’s what I now realize more clearly. As desire awakens, false satisfaction yields to true emptiness, and confident hope deepens. No legitimate desire exists without its object, without the source of its full satisfaction. God would have it no other way.
Augustine also wrote that, in order for God to grant my true desire, I must be emptied of all satisfaction of lesser desires. “God means to fill you with what is good; so cast out what is bad. The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleaned” before it can be “made fit for the new thing.” This one day of silence and solitude seemed to provide the courage I needed to face sins I often pass off as petty but which have sunk me into a deep ditch. But also, the courage has come to face those sins meaningfully, but not, in Alexander Whyte style, obsessively, and in- stead to look up to my Good Samaritan. That’s what brings the hope that spiritually forms.
- I’m glad I didn’t listen to more of the Lewis conference. I’m sure the quality sustained. But my limited capacity couldn’t digest one more prime rib dinner. Today allowed me to slowly reflect on all that had so richly nourished my soul, one bite at a time. I think a lesson has been learned. Reading great books and listening to great thinkers can be overdone. Convictions can remain borrowed and never embraced. Silence and solitude gives the Spirit opportunity to transform already believed truth into personal, passionate conviction.
- I will not return home tomorrow a new man. I became a new man 55 years ago when I trusted Christ. But I will return home more confident that the Spirit is growing me into that new man, that I am (often invisibly) becoming more of who I already am. Such is the mystery of sanctification. I’m more aware that Christ is not a piece of apparatus I can use for my satisfaction, but that He himself is my satisfaction; and that spiritual formation is a slow, often invisible process. In George MacDonald’s words, “With His holy influence, with His own presence (the one thing for which most earnestly we cry), He may be approaching our consciousness from behind, coming forward through regions of our darkness into our light, long before we begin to be aware that He is answering our request, has answered it, and is visiting His child.”
My eyelids are growing heavy. I climb into bed with one thought dominant above all others: God, all three persons, is self-communicating. It is His nature to fill every space that has been emptied to receive Him. One day of silence and solitude has, I think, created a little more space. I look forward to another day.
It’s now several weeks later. I just re-read what I wrote. As one discerning reviewer put it, “That’s the noisiest description of silence I’ve ever read.” I agree, sort of. I’ve experienced seasons of silence and solitude that have quieted my distracted mind and opened my closed heart and stilled my restless soul, seasons where the ineffable reality of God’s presence has lifted my into His unseen but, for a few dazzling moments, richly felt world of perfect love, satisfying community, and joy-filled encounter.
That’s one kind of silence and solitude, comparable perhaps to an orgasm shared with one’s beloved spouse. There’s another kind, equally valuable and equally important and, I think, far more common. What I’ve just described is perhaps akin to the day before an evening of satisfying sex, a day spent in thoughtful, deliberate, reflective interaction with the seeking lover, a day that both arouses longing for what you know is coming and sustains you with enough hope to keep you faithful until another un- orchestrated, unpredictable, unmanageable taste of eternal reality – an orgasm of the soul – is given. Looking back, I think of my day in room 419 as foreplay. And that’s a good thing.