Charleston on Silence and “The Light of the World”
“Enter the quiet room within. Go up the winding staircase of your thoughts, up to the cupola that looks out to the endless sea. Sit in the stillness there, until you can hear your heart. Let your mind grow as calm as the ribbons of sunlight across the floor, your breathing as steady as the rolling waves on the ocean before you. Listen to the empty space around you. Silence is inside you for a reason. It is the counterpoint you need to the noise of the world. Enter the quiet room within and discover the peace that knows your name.” Steven Charleston
Bishop Charleston passionately describes that place of silence inside of us, a place he must know so well. So many describe the voice of God, “the still small voice of God” as silence. It is a place of peace, the place that “knows your name”, the place where God calls us by name. It is a place where the committee in our head takes a respite. It is a place of surrender. So how do we get there? All of our spiritual exercises are taking us by the hand and leading us to the door to that room. My experience is that sometimes the door seems to open and sometimes it does not. I do not understand it all, but I do know that God is always there on the other side and that our journey is to keep knocking and seeking and discovering how that door might open. What is our part in opening the door and what is God’s part? My experience is the paradox that God is indeed there on the other side also knocking, knocking as in Holman Hunt’s famous painting, “The Light of the World”.
Charleston may be giving us hints of how he enters that room of silence. He connects to the sea, to nature, to the created world outside of him in previous writings. He connects to his body, his heart beat, his breath. This is my most frequent experience of silence, sitting outside where the only sound is water, birds, wind, trees, clouds, stars, moon and becoming aware of my body below the head. What a revelation! When our outside environment is silent, we are more likely to connect to that inner room of silence where God promises always to be present.
There are also inside “thin” places where people have gone for years for prayer, where silence is most often present. When you enter the space, you know you are not alone. Hundreds, thousands of prayers silently envelope you from those before you. The prayers are like a Gregorian chant that no longer has words with its tune at a pitch you cannot hear, but somehow it enters your body and slows your breathing and your heart rate.
This stained-glass window depicting “The Light of the World” is in Pierce Chapel, Trinity Cathedral Little Rock, where I and so many others have often met Christ standing and silently lighting up the window.