Silence as the basis of true friendship
We live...in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
C. S. Lewis talks about true friendship as stemming from the deepest part of a person, from the secret place of the soul, the inner chambers of true self. True friendship is enabled when two people step into the silent place, face their innermost selves, and then bring that deep internal honesty into face to face connections. Paradoxically, true silence is a basis of high, true friendship.
But, alas! even though our world talks a lot about friendship, it knows nothing of this true silence. We live in a world of non-stop relationships, but where each person in the relation is starved in his or her inner self. And the relationships – even supposed intimate relations – are far less than true. "We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship."
It is a fascinating concept. The paradox of true friendship is true silence! I thought of this, and realized that those persons I’ve called true friends …in some degree, through silence, brought the reality of these sacred, inner chambers to the friendship, blessing me.
Then, it struck me: we are asked to do the same with God, and others.
Jesus said something very similar. He said, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you in open.”
It sounds as if this principle of silence funding true friendship applies even to the divine/human relation! Those whom God would call true friends…are those willing to open to the secret place, in self and before Him, in the sacred chambers of their spirit.
The collectivist temptation
If this is true, we would expect the world to counteract it.
And that is precisely the case.
Lewis goes on to talk about two temptations offered to us in the modern world, regarding spirituality. The first is where the world says, ‘Religion is a private matter, you know!’ And then, through culture, creates a context where the individual – even the good Christian – has no real private life.
When the modern world says to us aloud, 'You may be religious when you are alone', it adds under its breath, 'and I will see to it that you never are alone.' To make Christianity a private affair while banishing all privacy is to relegate it to the rainbow's end or the Greek Calends.
Many good people that I know and admire, are caught right here. They love the Lord and the Lord loves them, but their private lives are under attack, and many of them surrendered long ago…and now create a faith life/language that has no real need for solitude.
The second failure follows up the first. For those who know that faith is exercised in private and private faith must be acted on in order to be true, this temptation then says that true faith is a collective affair: the only real faith is what we do for others; the only true actions are what others bless!
In the second place, there is the danger that real Christians who know that Christianity is not a solitary affair may react against that error by simply transporting into our spiritual life that same collectivism which has already conquered our secular life.
See the great temptation? The spiritual person is thus set up for a highjack in his or her life: only the collectivist action is approved, true calling then can be derailed in religious or family terms…
Truth in union of silence and action
True life, of course, is in the balance of both realities: communal and private.
God calls us to the secret place, but then takes us to the open place in this great inner power. And this is true friendship…for God, and the other humans we love!
Here, Kierkegaard's understanding of silence and the Word is salient. Louise Carroll Keeley artistically rephrases his thoughts on the startling power of true silence:
Silence is not the artificiality of deliberate wordlessness; it is rather attentive listening to the eternal Word amidst the world's noise. Predated by the Word, silence injects into the present its "beneficent power," and because [it is] pregnant with the Word, silence orients one to the future by directing one's action. Silence alone can render one aware that one is constituted by Another. And since what one hears in silence one subsequently does, so far from isolating one from others silence connects one to them.
“Word-soaked silence renders a house a spiritual home, and...Word-fostered joy sheds temptation as joy overcomes the divided mind that temptation always exploits.”
True friendship, and true Christianity, is born and carried on from silence: Word-soaked solitude! And thus, for Kierkegaard, the healing of our modern world begins here in silence. The relation for which we are starved, is here.
The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence.
All will be acquired in stillness and made divine in silence. It is true not only of Psyche's expected child that its future depended on her silence...
Truly it is said that “Christendom has done away with Christianity without being quite aware of it.” Christendom has replaced silence with superficial advice, and exchanged sacred solitude for the oppressive “rightness” of social structure, church or family...
Yet somewhere, the Word calls our names…in silence, offering us the relation and power of that secret place.