January promises of silence and stillness

My January 2018 column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.

The month of January promises many things:

  • The emotional letdown after Christmas.
  • The return to work after a long vacation.
  • The loneliness of an empty house after the children have gone to theirs.
  • Hunkering down with the cold and snow.
  • New beginnings with the new year.
  • Silence, and emptiness.
By Denis Collette (2011) via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

All during the busyness and noise of the holidays I longed for what January would bring. While I’m no fan of winter weather I appreciate the permission it grants to curl up in front of the fire with a good book, a steaming cup of coffee and a purring cat.

The silence is a welcomed guest whom I wish would stay with me always; it is elusive, fleeing at the slightest distraction. Emptiness signals a time to be filled.

What will I fill it with?

My emptiness is not just because of children I miss. It is certainly not due to lack of activity (for this I accept with gladness). It’s not because it is cold and gray outside rather than warm and green.

There is something else I miss far more.

It manifests itself in a gnawing feeling, a sense of arms reaching out for something, for someone. It’s that longing described in the scriptures as the deer panting for water.

By Jun Aoyama (2005) via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

An empty spirit that is sorry for prayers not said, for people neglected, for preferring worldly idols, for being consumed with self rather than with others. Longing for my Beloved who seems so far away and yet is so close to me that I cannot perceive Him.

January is a month of silence.

The birds not only do not sing but don’t even come to the feeder. The cold keeps people inside of their houses. Nighttime activities abate. It’s a time of promise, a gift, an invitation to draw near to my Beloved. Silence issues an invitation to hear His whisper in my heart. The quiet permits me to see those small signs that will lead me home.

By Luigi Alesi (2008) via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

What will those signs be?

What will He whisper to me? How long must I wait in silence?

Drawing upon past experience I know that the quiet will yield its reward no matter how long I have to wait. God works best in silence and often He will remain the background, revealing Himself in His time, at the best possible moment.

So I will wait, confident of His presence even if I may not feel it just yet. I will return to being faithful to my prayers, read his Word and ask for the grace to turn from myself to others. In the proper time, when my heart is truly silent, my Beloved will make Himself known.

January will fulfill her promise.


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My secret sin – My secret singing

This is my latest column in The Catholic Free Press.

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I have a lifelong habit of talking to myself. I don’t consider a thought to be valid unless it is spoken out loud.

I’m that crazy lady you see barreling down the highway with hands waving and a mouth that never stops moving. I do my best brainstorming in the car. I also vent. My face displays my mood for all to see: happy, sad, excited, angry. I am oblivious to anyone around me and so I let loose.

So what possible harm can there be in all that? This has been the lesson of my Lent this year.

thirty steps to heavenWhile reading a book by Father Vassilios Papavassiliou, a Greek Orthodox priest called Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, I came across a chapter titled “Talkativeness and Silence.” There was another chapter further in called “Stillness.” Stillness is something I have long desired but felt I could not achieve. I can’t sit still for one moment without fidgeting nor can I keep my mind from racing. Furthermore, I cannot seem to get out of the prison of myself. These chapters both outlined the problem and offered solutions. The tools are simple to use but the task is impossible without God’s grace.

The chapter on “Talkativeness and Silence” made it clear that talking to myself was often not a good thing. For one thing, it creates noise that blocks communion with God–how can I listen above the din of my own voice? Talking to myself leads me deep within but not to the place where God dwells.

I have a hot temper and am easily aggravated; frequent venting is the result. Such open expression of my anger in private stokes negative feelings that spill over to others. A perfect example is road rage—in my outburst of anger against the driver who supposedly wronged me I judge someone unjustly. The more I rage, the more aggressively I drive to the point where it could endanger others. Road rage sometimes interrupts prayer, severing communion with God. It takes a great deal of effort to restart that conversation.

Cursing to myself happens without a thought. The inability to control that urge in private makes it harder to control my tongue in public, going beyond simple cursing to gossip and hurtful words towards others. Cursing to myself reinforces those behaviors.

Father Papavassiliou is right: “As long as we consider the tongue to be autonomous—something that falls outside the scope of Christian ascesis, something independent of God—it will inevitably become a tool of sin.”


The Scriptures tell us that there’s no such thing as a private sin: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open”–Luke 8:17 (NIV)

You may not talk to yourself but everyone harbors thoughts. Where do those thoughts lead you? How do you express them? There is no thought that will not be revealed in one form or another. Those of us who vocalize our thoughts, even if just to ourselves exacerbate the danger of those thoughts harming someone else.

Conquering a lifetime of venting, lamenting and cursing seems like an impossible task. By my own power–not doable. Through an all merciful and powerful God, it will be done, especially as I humble myself and ask others to pray for me. The grace that comes through those prayers will help to control my tongue. Replacing negative thoughts with remembrances of all the wonderful ways God has blessed me is a powerful way to dispel any negativity.

Toni Birrer Complaining
Toni Birrer Complaining, Flickr Creative Commons

In asking God for help with my tongue, he has given me a wonderful tool—singing. Father Papavassiliou recommends this too. Therefore, if you see me driving down the Mass Pike, mouth moving and face happy and determined, you may witness me using this tool. The scriptures recommend it: “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19, NIV). It does a world of good for my soul, driving out wrongful thoughts. I know it silences my tongue.

For more aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

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Holy Silence – from The Holy Rover blog

Obtaining true silence, that stillness of the heart and mind open to hearing the whisper of God from within, is one of the most challenging aspects of the spiritual life. I believe it is the most important thing we can do for if the voice of God is continually drowned out with our busy lives, we will miss the truth.

Christian singer Michard Card says it so beautifully in his song, “The Final Word:”

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

What is Holy Silence? How do we quell the noise in our lives? One of my favorite bloggers, The Holy Rover, has a wonderful post about silence that I wanted to share with you.

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Icon of Elijah at the mouth of the cave (Wikimedia Commons image)
Icon of Elijah at the mouth of the cave (Wikimedia Commons image)

One of the pleasures of being married to my husband has been the many stories I’ve heard through the years about philosophers and their peculiar habits. One of my favorites is about a friend of Bob’s who several years ago gave a lecture in a philosophy class and then was asked a follow-up question by a student. In response the professor said, “You know, that’s really a good question. Let me think about it.” And then he sat down and thought about it. And then he thought about it some more. He furrowed his brow, he got up and paced across the floor, he stood looking out the window with a faraway look in his eyes. The minutes ticked by slowly as the students watched him in growing bemusement. Finally he gave his answer, clear and well-reasoned. And after class the students spread the story as proof of just how strange philosophers can be.

What flummoxed the students, of course, was the extended silence. Most of us are uncomfortable with silence, especially in a public setting such as that. But even when talking privately to a friend, we typically rush in to fill any pause with words. So the example of the philosopher in class, of someone being comfortable with an extended silence, conveyed a message that probably went unlearned by most of his students.

Click here to read the rest of this post.

Click to Tweet & Share: Holy Silence – from The Holy Rover blog http://wp.me/p2D9hg-tG

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