Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. It is a calm and cool day before the storm – I look forward to see snow in Daly City or San Francisco tomorrow. By God’s grace, I finally submitted my dissertation yesterday and finished all my academic requirements for graduation. The most pleasant word from the Chair of my dissertation committee was: “approved!” So I am expecting to earn my doctoral degree in Missiology on April 30th. I can now start a new “pattern of life” without academic pressure to submit papers constantly. It is time to truly enjoy reading all the books (textbooks and reference books) that I bought during the course of my study. Praise the Lord!
I agree with Kelsey that the idea of linking silence with prayer may sound like an out-and-out contradiction to many Christians. We are accustomed to thinking of the familiar forms of prayer that people use when they join together to worship or ask God for something. These forms almost always follow a lead given in the past. They shaped by words set down in the Bible, particularly the psalms, or by other poetry and by the liturgy. They can vary from the words that come spontaneously in the simplest service to the most elaborate prayers that have grown up und the Eucharist and other sacraments, and either may be used in private devotions. Of course, there is no question about the value and importance of this way of turning to God, but it is not the only kind of prayer that we need.
There is another, equally important way of praying in which a person becomes silent and tries to listen instead of speaking. Instead of picking up a familiar lead and speaking about the things that all of us feel are needed, one tries to become still. One’s effort is to be silent enough to hear, first, the deepest needs of one’s own heart, and then the prompting of the creative Spirit in whatever direction it may indicate. In this second kind of prayer, which we call meditation, one is trying to follow one’s own inner road as it is opened.
For the most part, however, modem man sees no place for silence among the realities of life, and so finds little time for it…Most modern life is a studied attempt to avoid ever being alone, faced with the reality of the inner world. Obviously to find the way of silence one needs to disconnect, to unhook from much of the activity and even turn off some of the light that seems so necessary to modern living. In a very real sense the way of meditation is a way of detachment.
Almost every approach to religious practice suggests ways of human growth and development that depend on separating from one’s ordinary round of activity. In most religions the understanding is found that people must nearly always let go of reactions and ideas that are simply customary or habitual before another level of life and meaning can break through to them. As long as one is like a ping-pong ball, bounced back and forth by every emotion and outer relationship, it is all too easy to overemphasize detachment as if this were the only route to God, and this often results in a pathological and distorted denial of life.
So long as a person thinks that life cannot be lived without someone or something, perhaps father or mother or parental substitute, or that life will fall apart without the accustomed indulgences or the round of activity, that person has not approached psychological maturity, but is living a dependent existence rather than becoming a self-contained individual, a person is in his own right who can give love without any strings attached. The ability to give love without expecting anything in return is one expression of maturity. The mature person is also able to be alone and silent, and the effort to turn inward in silence leads toward this detachment and the maturity that goes with it.
Becoming inner-directed, of course, does not guarantee maturity. Unless the individual takes the inner direction out into the world around him and tries to put it to use, this inner-directedness can become just as one-sided as today’s total emphasis on outer direction. It can even be schizophrenic. What maturity requires is a balance between the two.
One basic difference between Eastern and Western religion is this matter of balance between detachment and attachment. In both East and West the immediate goal is the same, to help the individual achieve self-containment through detachment. But in Eastern religion this is final as there is nothing further to become attached to. Buddhism sees no God at the end of the process, and so one of the central themes is escaping from. The final goal is to become detached from this miserable wheel of existence. Zen, springing from the soil of Buddhism, also seeks detachment as an end in itself. Yoga is based on a similar principle of freeing one’s self physically, emotionally and spiritually from entanglement in the world.
This kind of detachment practice is easier for or us Chinese to understand, because we grow up with this kind of religious concept. If you want to be serious in religious life, you should detach yourself from the “worldly” environment and enter a monastery to practice meditation and prayer. And the goal is definitely “escape.” Thus, Easter religious practice is an attempt to escape from the entanglement of life which creates all kinds of stress, frustrations and pain. The way to resolve the pain of entanglement is detachment.
However, this is not the way Jesus taught His disciples. Jesus emphasized detachment as a rhythm of life. Detachment and engagement are equally important in forming a godly lifestyle. There is time for detachment and time for engagement. Over-emphasis of either one can be damaging to holistic living. Nevertheless, Kelsey is correct that modern day people needs to learn detachment because the whole trend is to promote engagement. The social network technology emphasizes on reaching out or in touch with someone out there. We seem to live without not engaging with someone else. We need time to rest and connect with ourselves and God through prayer and meditation. Do you feel comfortable to detach from the world in silence for a lengthy period of time? It is healthy lifestyle not only spiritually but psychologically too.
Lover you through Christ in silence,