Last week I got the privilege of teaching out of Psalm 62 on the discipline of silence. Afterward, I was talking with my friend Ryan Clark, and he told me a story of a time a few years ago where he spent a few days in total silence while in the Czech Republic. I asked him to write it down, and the way he’s written it is extremely compelling, poetic, and cool. Here it is (he also included a couple of pictures from his 3 day experiment, they’re below as well):
I couldn’t hear.
The noise was ubiquitous. The big city, the schedule, the appointments, the screen in my pocket, the other screens, life.
The ministry: the talking, fellowshipping, witnessing, missionary-ing, singing, praying. Even the praying.
Especially the praying.
I couldn’t hear.
So I left. Swallowed into the Czech Wilderness for three days. Swallowed into Czesky Raj—forests, mountains, giant rock formations, unsure where it would spit me back up. There was one rule. No talking.
Backpack contents were few: socks & underwear, bible, Moleskine, pen, a few euros. Six small signs with phrases like “Nemluvim”, meaning “I don’t speak”, and “je tam hospoda v okoli?” (“is there a tavern nearby?”)
The small train, my fourth, dropped me off, and I began to hike and listen. I expected to finally hear, but I didn’t. I sat on the ground, eyes closed, straining, wincing, repeating “I’m here, God. Speak,” pen in hand. The noise of trying so hard to hear was deafening.
I still couldn’t hear.
So I took a nap. Then climbed a rock (a big one). Found a tree and sat, just sat and watched. For an hour, two, six. And I began to hear.
I heard a hawk circling, floating on a current, diving for prey. I heard the trees’ gentle movements. I heard the huge rocks, old as creation, the clouds shapeshifting, the ants crawling over my hand. I heard nature worshipping. And I joined.
Then I heard my blockage. The self-reliance, the distractibility, that strange mixture of pride and insecurity, the apathy. And as I began to silently discuss these with God, I realized it was a conversation, not a monologue.
Then I heard people. My parents, brothers, friends. My future-wife Kristin. My challenging roommate. My more challenging ministry-director. My strange neighbor. My annoyingly passive-aggressive, smelly Czech co-worker. I heard them, their gifts, passions, motivations. Heard them how God heard them, and loved them.
Then I heard the psalmists. Bitter, rejoicing, depressed, anxious, relieved, vengeful. Seeking shelter. Lifting their eyes. Resting in the Shadow. Waiting. Talking and listening.
So for three days I listened in a screen-less, wordless, profound silence. Then I got back on the four trains, went back to Prague, returned to the US, and lived a life.
But I had finally learned to hear.