Long ago, a wise spiritual director said to me, “Ruth, you are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough so that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.” This was an invitation to “be still and know” beyond my addiction to noise, words, people, and performance-oriented activity.
In Protestant circles at the time, anyone talking about solitude, silence, contemplation, or centering prayer was assumed to be embracing some sort of New Age philosophy, or to be well on their way to becoming a Buddhist. But my previous methods for seeking God—Bible study, prayer journals, more and better preaching, self-help books, small group gatherings—were coming up empty. And as I said yes to the invitation to solitude and silence, as challenging as it was, I experienced powerful results in my life that I could not have experienced in any other way.
Fifteen years later, 3,200 high school-age young people gathered at a Youth for Christ conference in Ocean City, Maryland. In most ways, it was a normal event of its kind: stimulating speakers, great music, and fun entertainment. But the organizers (Protestants all!) had a vision to end the conference with something different. As the young people made their way into the convention hall for the final session, leaders met them with signs asking everyone to enter silently. The music and worship were quiet and focused on just being in God’s presence. I taught from the story of Elijah, speaking about the radical nature of the disciplines of solitude and silence, and then asked if everyone was ready to try it together. The resounding “yes!” was a roar throughout the auditorium.