In the preface to Elizabeth O’Connor’s book, Search for Silence, N. Gordon Cosby writes: “The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless.”
That’s a scary thought, especially for those of us who are restless and who find it difficult to be comfortable alone and with silence. Yet there is no doubt that Cosby is right, not to reach inner stillness is to be forever restless. So it is good to make our peace with this.
And that peace is not easily won. The journey inward to that quiet centre, that central silence, where one’s own life and spirit are united with the life and Spirit of God, is long and arduous. Moreover, very little invites us to make it.
First of all, we are born restless, over-charged for our own lives, so on fire with eros and energy of every kind that simply sitting still is already itself a considerable task. This restlessness, which is the heartbeat of a human soul, is the fire of God within us and is God’s assurance, written into nature, that we will not settle for anything less than everything.
As Augustine so aptly put it: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Still, given all this, spontaneously our restlessness pushes us outward rather than inward. When we are restless, almost invariably, there is the compulsive desire to seek rest in something or somebody outside of ourselves. Rarely, when we are deeply restless, are we drawn inward, to seek a solution to our yearnings in stillness and silence.
In addition, almost everything within our world militates against journeying inward towards stillness and silence as a remedy to the painful obsessions that we experience in our restlessness. This in a double way. The world both intensifies and trivializes our restlessness.
Our culture invites excitement, not silence; activity, not stillness. Thus we find ourselves constantly titillated and overstimulated in our restlessness. Somehow the impression is out there that everyone in the whole world is finding something that you are not, that everyone’s life is more full and complete than yours, that your life, as it is, is too small and timid . . . and that only if you bring many more people, things, places, and experiences into your life will you find peace and calm.
The world suggests that the solution to your restlessness lies outside of yourself, in building a bigger and more exciting life. If you are lonely, find a friend; if you are restless, do something; if you have a desire, fulfill it.
Beyond this, the world trivializes our restlessness, inviting us in a thousand ways to forget that God has called us to make an inward pilgrimage. The world, while not necessarily against God, invites us to forget God.
“Distract yourself,” it says. “Lower your ideals. Forget about immortal longings and eternal peace and think of your immediate frustrations, your lack of self-expression, your yearning hormones and of how little of the good life you’ve actually got. Do more things, change marriage partners, make a career change, have a better sex life, travel more, read more books, go to more movies—or write a book, plant a tree, have a child. Find enough life and leave some mark and you won’t be so restless.”
Given all of this, it is not easy for us to believe that the ultimate solution to our restlessness lies in a journey inward. Given all of this too, it is not easy to have the courage to make that journey, even when we know that it must be done.
Cosby’s challenge—”The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless”—should be written in bold letters in the preface of every spiritual book today. Too much inside of us and around us invites us to forget this and it is too dangerous to forget it. It’s our rest, our peace, that’s at stake here.
When Christ invites is to make the preferential option for the poor, he also spells out the consequence of ignoring the invitation, namely, at the last judgment the King might not recognize us since he never met us in the least of our brothers and sisters.
The invitation to move inward, in silence, to gently calm our raging restlessness with an inner stillness that comes from union with God is just as non-negotiable. To ignore it is to take a bad risk.