C. W. McPherson is an Episcopal priest and spiritual director who has spent 20 years in parish ministry. In the opening pages of this wise and helpful resource, he tells what happened when he asked some members of his church to set aside ten minutes a day in silence as a spiritual practice. Most people were unable to do it. McPherson then discusses some of the roadblocks to this ancient devotional activity held in such high regard by the Apostolic writers, the Desert fathers and mothers, the medieval mystics, and spiritual directors of the present era.
For some people, silence is equated with death and that is a subject they just don't want to deal with on a regular basis. It is also associated with torture, namely the uncomfortable nightmare of solitary confinement. Many adults remember as children that silence was used as a punishment. The other side of this, according to the author, is that in contemporary society we equate noise with freedom and pleasure: "We are subjected to an intensity and consistency of noise that is absolutely unprecedented in human experience, and we don't even take note of it. . . . Spend at least two minutes making a mental list of the things you hear at this moment. Now imagine that number multiplied by a factor of about 5,000. This is the amount of noise you endure every day."
Sages and seers from the Christian and other traditions and others have pointed to the many salutary benefits of silence, including the ways it improves concentration, calms the body, offers balance in our lives, activates our listening skills, teaches us the importance of words, and helps us to develop empathy. McPherson offers concrete practices that can be tried to set in motion this important spiritual discipline: sitting meditations (Benedictine rumination, psalm repetition, memorization, the Jesus Prayer, a Christian focus Prayer, and breath counting); visual meditations ( icons, meditating on symbols, candle meditation); mental prayer (Ignatian meditation); and kinetic meditations (walking meditation, cloister walking, the labyrinth, the Way of the Cross, and the Book of the Poor). He closes this paperback with suggestions for extending this spiritual practice in your life with a visit to a monastery, taking a silent retreat, or forming a community of friends who keep silence with you.