“The Sound of Silence”
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence[i]
There are many who are familiar with the opening verse of this 60’s Simon & Garfunkel hit. Although Paul Simon was prompted by thoughts and emotions following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy when he penned this song, the lyrics are somewhat revealing and eerily reflective of the next area we will cover with regard to contemplative prayer.
The next major topic covered by brought into question in this series[ii] is “The Discipline of Solitude and Silence.” The anonymous writer of this paper states, “While some writers may list these as two different disciplines they are more times than not examined and practiced together and I will do so here.” Likewise, we will treat both solitude and silence together.
In today’s article, I will suggest that the enlightenment and spiritual growth supposedly found in prayers of “silence and solitude,” as proposed by advocates of contemplative mysticism, is actually a pathway to opposition to God’s Word rather than to obedience, a mean to works that confound faith, and an embrace of darkness rather than light. We will attempt to gain some understanding on this subject by following a similar pattern as to that used in our last article: (1) examining what is proposed by contemplative mystics when they refer to solitude and silence; and then, knowing WHAT it is, (2) examining whether or not this practice meets the Scriptural criteria as a sound, Biblical practice; and if not, WHY not.
WHAT? The mystic writer of our source document takes four paragraphs to explain what it is to have contemplative solitude and silence and follows that with three paragraphs and two sentences on how to implement such a practice; and basically, it is this: developing habitual disciplines in order to take time to be alone with God, clear of distractions and external noise, so that one may be silent before God, in order to hear God more clearly. If it were nothing more than getting away privately in order to converse with Christ in prayer and meditation upon His Word, I would say, “Bravo!” and “Go for it!” Yet, there is a very telling sentence written in our source paper: “We need to again deeply sense that God is present and wants to impress us with thought and with awareness of his creation.”[iii]
The incorporation of solitude and silence in contemplative prayer is built upon the “practice” of God’s presence, as covered in the last article. This is why the subtle promotion of contemplative mysticism was an important issue to cover and an important foundational article to write for this series. The subtle nuances of previous contemplative assumptions are incorporated into its succeeding doctrines in the justification of all its outlying components.
WHY? Not only does the subtle promotion continue, but the soiled and sullied perspectives continue in the propagation of these practices. In order to encourage the prospective contemplative practitioner to persevere in his or her endeavors, silly and abusive use of Scripture is applied in a way that is best illustrated by citing this paragraph from our source document:[iv]
“Christians certainly can live with spiritual distinction and please God in their thinking and actions, but the Christian who does it consistently is the one that has been marked and trained by discipline. As Jesus told Peter, “Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41). Spiritual disciplines can strengthen the flesh so right responses to God’s presence will be more consistent. Practice makes better!
Let’s think about what is being said here: the writer is telling us that, in order to practice the presence of God, we must include these disciplines so that we may “strengthen the flesh.” That is absolutely ludicrous when the Scriptures tell us that the flesh of the saint is crucified with its affections and lusts.[v] We are also commanded to put the flesh to death and mortify the deeds of the body.[vi] “Then what is this passage telling us, Brother Jon?” I’m so glad you asked because I so want to tell you.
When Peter, James, and John were brought along with Jesus to watch and pray along with Him, they had a desire to do so, and although their flesh was weak in the sense that they were tired, yet, the Lord’s statement speaks on something else entirely. How so? Think about it. Was Jesus any less tired than they? Of course not. In fact, knowing that He was going to be crucified and suffer the wrath of God in just a few hours, Christ Jesus suffered an agony[vii] that you and I can never fathom completely. If our spiritual life depended upon the condition of yours or my physical prowess, then we can also say that most male Christians are superior to female Christians who are weaker vessels.[viii] A doctrine such as this would oppose the truth that the poor in spirit possess the kingdom of heaven[ix] and that the meek inherit the earth.[x] This kind of logic defiantly and haughtily puffs up its breast against passages of Scripture such as 1 Corinthians 1:26-27,
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
The weakness of the flesh in this instance is its unwillingness and unyielding struggle against the more important spiritual life. The apostle Paul speaks of developing disciplines to keep his body under subjection[xi] because of such heavenly commandments to behave according to the Spirit and not after the lusts of the flesh.[xii]
We actually have a far less struggle with the distractions around us than with the struggles of flesh within us. Please don’t misunderstand. Distractions abound around us; and I do advocate a disciplined life according to scriptural means to develop spiritually as individuals, as families and as congregations of believers. Yet, the turmoil that rises in our flesh against the Spirit of God and the spirit of the new man in Christ is the issue here. When we first approach prayer, it is not to seek silence. The first principle of prayer is that which Christ Himself gives us from Luke 11:2, and it is actually to speak:
When ye pray, say…
When we pray, as in Christ’s model prayer, it is good, in fact, necessary to pray with our petitions, supplications and thanksgivings because the very act of bringing our requests unto God is an act of submission unto our Sovereign, and thus, we can be released of worry and anxiety, which is sin, because it is not born of faith and exhibits a lack of trust in a good, wise, and omnipotent God:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
The most prominent verse that is used to support this silence and solitude is Psalms 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Sometimes, contemplative mystics may also be as bold as to quote the entire verse: “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” It seems to make no difference to them what God is actually saying in the context of the entire Psalm, by the very words in which He is saying it. Within the greater context of this Psalm, Israel fretted with great anxiety over the violent heathen nations surrounding them. They struggled under the pressure of such a small people having to face the rage of the heathen:
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: Psalms 46:6a
Yet, Jehovah God comforts them with a title of protection. He is the LORD of Hosts, YHVH Tzavaot, the I AM of the entire heavenly army, who is the refuge of Jacob’s descendents, whose voice melts the earth in the utterance of a single word:
the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Psalms 46:6b-7, (11)
Selah. God’s Word says to reflect upon this truth. Like Israel, we face a multitude of enemies surrounding us. We are pressed in on three sides like Israel, from the raging of the world that hates Christ, from the rebellion of the flesh that lusts against the Spirit, and from the roaring of Satan who seeks to devour us like a lion. He says reflect upon His mighty power, upon His magnificent protection, and upon His blessed redemption:
Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Psalms 46:8-9
Behold, Christian believer, the work of Jesus Christ: the God who became flesh and dwells among us; for He is the LORD of Hosts. In His perfect sacrifice He has made desolate the curse of the earth. In His holy triumph at the Cross, He has crushed the authority of Satan, smashing the head of the serpent’s seed by His bruised heel, sending forth His glorious gospel to the end of the earth! Christ has broken the bow of the enemy with His broken body upon Calvary’s tree! Christ has cut asunder the spears of the wicked one when a spear pierced His side! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, burned the enemy’s chariot, his conveyance to war, when His soul burned under the wrath of God, paying the debt He did not owe with a life we could not live and a death we could not endure. Therefore, God says, “BE STILL!” He says, “Stop your struggle!” He commands, “Abate from your advance in works that are accomplished by God alone!” He utters:
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. Psalms 46:10
Christ will be exalted among the heathen because God Himself cried out, “It is finished” when He hung upon that tree of wood. Therefore, be still. Christ will be exalted in all the earth because the only righteous Man who ever breathed, walked upon the earth and lived a simple, singular, sinless, and obedient life before God the Father. Therefore, be still. Stop your struggle. Stop trying to attain a victory that was already won on Calvary. Stop attempting to get into His presence through a work of making yourself silent. For once we have submitted in prayer by making our requests, knowing He alone is God, we can hear with our spiritual ears what the Spirit of the Lord Christ is saying through His precious, preserved and powerful Word. He that hath an ear, let him hear…
If this is true, then the efforts behind that endeavor to practice solitude and silence is a works that denies faith alone in Christ alone, and actually opposes the Scripture verse in Psalm 46 that is oft used to support such a practice.
Interestingly, the last refrain from Simon & Garfunkel’s mid-60’s song sounds almost eerily prophetic of the pursuit of contemplative practices promoted by those who would make a profession of Jesus Christ. The indulgence of contemplative practice flees from the inerrant and authoritative Word of God and lusts after the worship of an idolatrous experience, not unlike the prayers offered to icons and images practiced by the medieval monks who are endorsed by Rome.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls;”
And whispered in the sound of silence
[i] Paul Simon, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., “The Sounds of Silence,” CBS, 1965
[ii] “Spiritual Disciplines: Pathway to Christian Maturity,” which is promoted by the Alabama Baptist Convention
[iii] Ibid, pg. 2, para. 3
[iv] Ibid, pg. 1, para. 4
[v] And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Galatians 5:24
[vi] For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. Romans 8:13
[vii] And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:44
[viii] Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. 1 Peter 3:7
[ix] Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
[x] Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5
[xi] But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 1 Corinthians 9:27
[xii] This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16