Two Experiments That I'm Trying Related to Silence

We have a lot of silence in any stretch of 24 hours. After all, we sleep in silence which accounts for 6-8 hours. It’s the rest of the day that’s a challenge. We battle two types of noise when we’re awake:

  • outer noise (either physical, i.e. sounds or digital, i.e. technology-related)
  • inner noise (the inability to focus and think deeply)
If silence is lacking, then grace is lacking
— St. Maximilian Kolbe

I’ve been experimenting over the past few months with ways to make silence more manageable. I confess that I occasionally find silence difficult. This is coming from an introvert who enjoys time alone. It’s still hard for me.

Silence is something that I want to be more comfortable with. My sense is that it’s good for me and as I prepared for this post, I found that I was not alone.

  • Thomas a Kempis said, “In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and learns the hidden truths of Scripture”.
  • St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “Silence is necessary, and even absolutely necessary. If silence is lacking, then grace is lacking”. 

I suspect that the rise of technology is a keen contributor to our struggle with technology. In a spare moment, it’s become muscle-memory to grab out phones and do… whatever. We just feel as if we should be checking.  Email, Twitter, Social Media, new wallpaper downloads, clearance sales, anything at all.

And that makes silence all the more difficult. After all, it can’t hold a candle to the exciting lure of how many likes yesterday’s Instagram post garnered.

But, and here’s the key- what if silence could measure up? What if it were actually more valuable to our spiritual lives than anything that could possibly be on our phones? 

Two Silence Experiments

To better handle my own struggle with silence, I've been trying two experiments. First, I’ve been practicing a Digital Sabbath once a week. Usually on a Sunday, I will try to avoid using my phone or computer. You could call it “old school Sunday” as we break out the books with real paper and spend more time outdoors. It feels somehow nostalgic and … right. It seems to have put my week in perspective nad made a difference. While in the first few months I dreaded the Digital Sabbath, I now look forward to it.

God is the friend of silence.
— St. Teresa of Calcutta

A second experiment has dealt with spontaneity. Whenever I’m driving somewhere and feel the slightest urge to pray or be quiet, I turn off the radio or podcast. I let the silence fill the car and flood my mind. I figure that this is either (simply) a good way to include more silence in my day or (and more importantly) a nudge from God to shut up and be quiet. Both are good.

These two experiments with silence are making a difference in my prayer life. When I have my morning quiet time, close my eyes and be still, the silence is a little easier. Because I’m “doing the work” during the week, the prayer muscle of my heart is more toned and able to receive the silence God provides. As St. Teresa of Calcutta famously said, "God is the friend of silence."

When it comes to silence, what works for you?


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How to Pray When You Live in a Small Space
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Space plays an important role when you are working on your prayer life. A friend of mine has a chapel in her garage. Another friend has a small corner in his room with a chair and a table with an icon on it. Wherever you live, your space will impact your prayer time.


My family is a classic example. We have four kids in a three bedroom home. Depending on the day, it can be pretty tight. With that said, I am very (read, very) fortunate to have an office in my basement that is rarely used by anyone else. I can retreat there for a morning quiet time and it’s been a blessing for many years. I’ve placed some religious art on the walls so that when I open my eyes, my mind and heart are jogged by religious imagery.


Not everyone has that. You might be in an apartment where space is tight. Or, you might be sharing a room with someone and half your space isn’t really “yours”. Maybe you have plenty of room but it doesn’t feel conducive to prayer.


So what can you do? Here are four suggestions:


1.  Carve out a prayer corner. One of the most holy men I know uses this technique. He has a chair, a small table and some religious items on the table. This is his sacred space each morning for an hour or more. You don’t need a lot of space with this approach.

2.  Transform a space that’s used for something else. Think: kitchen table. Your table is obviously used for meals but once a day, you could transform this into a spot for prayer. All you would need is a candle or small icon and your Bible. You could then make this your prayer spot. When you finish, simply return your tools to another spot and the table is ready for its next meal!

3.  Pray outside. If you absolutely cannot find a quiet spot in your home, you can pray in an outdoor space, weather permitting. A side porch or back deck is perfect for this. Typically, these kinds of spaces provide some background noise (but not too much) and the beauty of nature.

4.  Pray during exercise. If options 1-3 don’t work for you, get moving and use your fitness for prayer. While this isn’t relaxing, it will provide you with a focused means of prayer. I know many people who pray the Rosary while they walk and it works well for them.


The key in all of this is to pray regularly. By paying attention to your space, your prayer life will benefit.

Should You Download Another Productivity App?
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Another productivity app anyone? Maybe a new Markdown editor or todo app for your smartphone? Wait! Before you hit the download button, think again.

There is an upside to an app that works for you. There is also a downside to any app that steals your focus. 

I've certainly felt this. When my work tools are helping me get things done, it fees good. When I'm tempted to test out something new, there is a slight feeling of unrest. There really is a spiritual component to our work.

As Carl Pullein says, your apps should work for you, not the other way around. 

  

To save you time, I've tested out the latest version of Omnifocus (version 3.0) and it's quite strong. That doesn't mean that you should use it but you should watch the video. If you like the app, the OmniGroup is prepping for a May 30th public launch. 

Enjoy the review!

 

 

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About Mike St. Pierre

I teach people how to pray using simple online tools like blogs and video. f you’d like to be included in my regular email with tips and tricks for praying better, you can sign up here.

What Contributes to a Good Quiet Time?
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You sit down to pray and your mind is racing a thousand miles a minute. A sound bothers you. Your stomach rumbles. What was going to be a nice time of prayer is quickly slipping away...

Can you relate?

We’ve talked a lot about the components of a morning quiet time. There are tried and true “parts” to this ancient practice.

What we might take for granted, especially when it comes to morning prayer, are the other factors that can impact a morning quiet time.

I think of the story from St. Therese of Lisieux. During prayers in the chapel, another sister would make a sort of clacking noise which Therese found quite distracting. While at first an annoyance, she found a way to turn the sister’s peculiarities into something pleasant. Over time, she would look forward to the other sister’s noise.

By the way, I had a college roommate who snored like you can’t imagine. A train (snoring) literally came through our room each night! Unlike Therese, I didn’t have the virtue to see his snoring as a gift.

Back to the topic at hand- which factors contribute to your morning quiet time?

Here are four that stand out for me:

1. Sound. What’s going on around you? Are you alone? Is anyone else nearby? How about environmental sounds like birds outside or a train passing by... take note of these things.

2. How you are feeling physically? Are you hungry or tired? Does anything pain you? How is your posture? Take note of these things.

3. Temperature. Are you cold? Hot? Do you need to take off your jacket? Is your belt too tight? Take note of these things.

4. Desire. As you enter into prayer, are you feeling as if you want to pray? Does it feel routine today? Are you happy about this experience? Take note of these things.

We could add probably a dozen other things that impact your daily quiet time. The key is to take note of things, both inside you and outside of you. Then, as with all things, offer the moment and your heart up to the Lord. He will take care of the rest.

10 Strategies for Minimizing Distractions at Church
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There’s a lot going on at church and it can be distracting.  I imagine that for priests, it takes all of the charity in them to have patience with those that come to church.


Think about it,

•  People arrive late

•  Phones go off

•  No one sits in the front rows

•  People read the bulletin during Mass

•  People are chewing gum

•  And the list goes on and on!


Notice that I didn’t add crying babies to the list- at least they have a good excuse for not paying attention to what’s happening while church is “in session”.  The rest of us?  Not so much.


From a prayer perspective, church is hard.  We feel like we should be able to pray while we are at Mass.  We probably want to pray but there are just so many distractions.  It’s also hard to simply leave our busy lives at the door and then flip the switch into prayer mode.


As you can imagine, I do have some recommendations for how you can make your next visit to church more prayerful.


1.  Leave your phone in the car. Unless it’s the dead of winter (or summer) and you deliver babies for a living, you can probably get away with leaving your phone in the car. 

2.  Check yourself before walking in the door.  Take a breath.  Remember that your life is about to take on new meaning.  Pause.

3.  Make a profound sign of the cross.  Don’t rush through this ancient practice of the church.  Make a slow sign of the cross.

4.  Give yourself permission to close your eyes.  Not while you’re walking! Rather, when you are kneeling or sitting in prayer, give yourself permission to listen, to pray and to be focused with your eyes closed.

5.  Choose a spot that will minimize distractions. This will, of course, depend on your church.  One church I visit has a terrible spot right by the air conditioning floor vents while another is too close to the choir.  Find a spot that works for you.

6.  At the sign of peace, make someone’s day with a smile.  Don’t rush through this moment... make a brief connection through your joyful smile.

7.  Listen with eagerness to the readings.  Really enter into this moment and use the books in the pew if that is helpful.

8.  As you are walking up for communion, develop a prayer mantra.  Ask God to make you a better person.  Tell Him how you feel about your relationship with Him.

9.  After communion, enter into this moment.  Close your eyes and just be with the Lord.  This is sacred time.

10.  10 minutes after Mass, try to remember that you’ve just received the Lord in communion.  I often forget that I’m supposed to live, in faith, as a changed man after I have received communion.  Be mindful of this. Speak with charity.  Express gratitude. Be patient with yourself and others. 


What strategy would you add to this list? How do you minimize distractions at church?

prayer, Noise, FaithMike StPierre
Resources, Role Models and Routines
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In his recent exhortation, Pope Francis talks about the context of becoming holy.  He wants us to ask, 

  • Can I become holy in the midst of my busy, daily schedule?
  • Do I need to become a nun or a priest in order to be holy?
  • What is a realistic path for me to become holy?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly asked these questions over the years.  As I get older, I see my daily life, with its warts and blessings, as the “container” for me to become holy.  

As an encouragement, the Holy Father points to the ultimate context for learning the be holy: the Church.  He says,

In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 15)

If you were trying to get in shape, where would you turn?  Most likely to a gym with personal trainers and a community that supports you.  Right?  This may explain why CrossFit is so popular in the United States- it offers just the right amount of support and guidance for getting fit.

Pope Francis is telling us that the Church is the “gym” for individuals who want to become not just more prayerful but more human, more whole.  St. Iraneaus famously said, “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.”  This is holiness, to be fully alive and rooted in Christ.

To do this, we need three things: Resources, Role Models and Routines.  The Church provides all three and in subsequent posts, we will explore each in detail.

In the meantime, spend some time today considering the ways in which the Church is your personal gym for growing in holiness.