By Whitney T. Kuniholm
President, Scripture Union/USA
For years I’ve begun my day “the SU way”; I read the Bible, pray…and drink a cup of coffee. The coffee is optional, but the fact is, Scripture Union has helped me develop a very disciplined quiet time. But recently I discovered something important has been missing from my daily walk with God.
I made this discovery at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist Monastery in rural Kentucky where Thomas Merton lived. I went there for a 3-day personal retreat. I’ve taken several personal retreats in the past and have a formula for how I do it: I spend about 2 hours reading the Bible, journaling and praying; then I do some kind of exercise. I repeat this cycle as often as my time allows.
But at the monastery I quickly realized I was in for something new. First, the monks go to church seven times a day; it’s called the Liturgy of the Hours, and the first service is at 3:15 am! “No…way…I’m getting up that early,” I thought. But at 3:00 am they rang a loud church bell 44 times (yes, I counted!) so you can’t sleep. Next, there’s no talking. Signs everywhere say, “Silence is spoken here.” It seemed weird.
But soon I came to love the silence; I was able to set aside my usual disciplines just to spend time alone with God. I went for long walks through the fields and talked aloud to God. I found a lake and prayed the Psalms aloud out over the waters. Other times I’d sit at the back of a small chapel and pray by myself in the deep stillness.
The only talking I heard was at mealtimes. Although the retreatants weren’t allowed to talk, the monks played tapes of someone lecturing about Theresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux and the contemplative life. Unfortunately the sound system was so bad I could barely hear. But as I focused intently on listening, a word came through “…attentive”, then more garble and, “…attentive to God.”
“That’s it!” I thought. “That’s what I’ve been missing.” I was learning that the way to meet God is not just to read his Word and pray in a disciplined way. That’s a good starting point. But to really experience God’s presence I must eliminate distractions, and then be attentive, really attentive to him and his voice. And the more attentive to God I became, the more I realized that the biggest distractions weren’t from the outside—noise, media, chatter. The biggest distractions come from within—my worries, fears and sinful thoughts.
I’m back in the real world now and, don’t worry, I’ve returned to my regular SU disciplines; I read the Bible, pray…and drink coffee. But I’ve added something new. Most Sunday’s, early in the morning, you’ll see me walking by myself through our neighborhood, looking at the sky and talking with God. It’s one of the happiest times in my life.