Learning to live medium-loud requires intentionality and courage, as the last post discussed. It also requires integrity. Today we’re picking up right where Mezzo Forte left off – all the way down to the footnoted quote!
“To ‘exist’ does not mean simply to be but to stand out from (ex-stare), and that not in the sense of being separate from but intimately connected with the environment from which the individual as an individual stands out.” – Walter Lowrie, A Short Life of Kierkegaard
Like a pianist performing within a greater concerto, the individual must be firmly established as an individual before contributing to the group. While you need to know the appropriate volume, you also need to know what notes you’re supposed to play! This takes dedication – hours spent alone with the sheet music until the music is ingrained in you.
Even before I was encouraged to “speak directly”, I had received another pithy statement of instruction: “Rest in solitude”. (My fellow Fours may recognize this as one of the nine versions of synonymous advice given in The Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz.) When indirect communication becomes our defense mechanism, we can counter it by resting in solitude.
I’ve mentioned before that, for an introvert, I’m surprisingly bad at being alone. Something about solitude makes it so difficult to rest. Mental alarms trigger to stave off the silence, the pseudo-connection of a smartphone turns my focus outward, and worries about future plans or past embarrassments rip me out of the current moment. Just writing about these things makes it harder to breathe! While each of them can lead to something productive when applied wisely, these extremes only serve to distract from proper rest.
Kierkegaard writes that it seems “It seems… as if something inexpressible thrusts itself forward from his innermost being, the unspeakable, for which indeed language has no vessel of expression. Even the longing is not the unspeakable itself. It is only hastening after it. But what silence means, what the surroundings will say in this stillness, is just the unspeakable.”*
It’s possible to want something good that is not “the Good” – and that’s not bad! As long as our wills are continually submitted to the Good’s. At risk of accidentally turning this site into a full-blown Kierkegaard commentary, I’ll use another example of his. In times of trouble, it is natural to want to share about the experience in the confidence of a trusted friend. This is a good thing! However, it cannot replace (or even precede) the confidence of contemplation, “for even the most trustworthy friend still speaks as a third person.”
In our cleverness, we can convince ourselves we “will one thing” while actually remaining double-minded. Silence and solitude are necessary for the contemplation through which God redirects our wills. With time, He helps us recognize our contentment in Him, not in the fulfillment of other desires. This contentment-leading-to-confidence combats the fear mentioned in Mezzo Forte, the fear of being heard – or, more specifically, the fear of the crowd’s response to what they hear. We are free to be the individuals He alone wants us to be (and to find that’s who we really wanted to be all along).
Contemplation is foundational for direct communication; without the guidance of the Spirit through study of Scripture (in silence and solitude – how’s that for alliteration?), we wouldn’t be able to speak! Learning a song for a recital takes regular practice. In the time I’ve been taking lessons, I’ve become pretty familiar with the piano rooms in the basement of the chapel. There’s usually a brief period of time in the evenings – between the late afternoon rush of students getting their hours in and the late night slew of close-talking couples seeking a secluded date night – in which one can practice in relative privacy. These times are a necessity. Without the hours spent stumbling over chords throughout the semester, there’s no way I could be ready for the recital in December. Resting in solitude is the same way. If we don’t spend any time in the practice of being present, we can’t expect individual integrity to develop on its own.
Resting in solitude allows us to receive more than contentment alone. Through it, we also receive content! In other words, we don’t rest just for the sake of resting, or even for the sake of speaking; we rest in solitude in order to be present to God and to hear from Him.
Personally, I’ve never had the experience of an audible voice from God telling me what to do. Does this mean God, of all people, communicates indirectly? Maybe not. (In the next post, I plan on looking at a handful of biblical examples where God was very direct.) Maybe our contemplation opens our eyes to see the directness of His instruction throughout our lives. It might appear as doors being opened, circumstances outside of our control coming to attention, or persistent wisdom being offered by an outside voice. We can’t choose how God will speak, but we can live with the integrity of an individual in such a way as to will one thing. “And if someone notes that there is an individual outside the crowd who is really and truly afraid – not of the crowd, but of God, he is sure to be the target of some ridicule.” Thankfully, our contentment is not based on how the crowd judges our response to God! In this case, we are not playing for the audience’s applause but for the Teacher alone. Just as a soloist in the orchestra stands out in order to complete the piece, each of us must have integrity to respond to God’s instruction accordingly.
*Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing by Søren Kierkegaard "Nothing Else" by Cody Carnes "Storm Trooper" (the song I was practicing in the header photo)