Busted Halo

Our writers invite you along on their journeys through Lent. Follow the play-by-play of their personal spiritual practices and share your own.

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April 8th, 2014

Rob Carr/AP Photo

Rob Carr/AP Photo

I have intentionally tried to plan my prayer time this Lent; each day, I sit down for a set 10-15 minutes of quiet reflection.

This has been helpful for a number of reasons, the most evident being that the discipline of actually designating a time to pray is the surest way to make sure I will actually do it. If I only meditated when I was in the mood or otherwise felt moved to do so … well, I would probably be able to count my “higher power” exchanges on one hand.

While visiting my grandparents’ house yesterday, I was browsing one of their guest bedrooms when I felt a sudden urge to pray. I only had a few moments before I would rejoin my family, but I swiftly knelt, said a few words and left the room.

The whole experience probably lasted a minute, maybe less. But those 60 seconds felt more meaningful and, frankly, holy than the 12 minutes I dedicated to quiet meditation later in the day.

I am not suggesting those pre-appointed prayer sessions are unimportant; again, they are a useful way to actually maintain a regular prayer life. But forming them is …

April 4th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

Con algunos amigos peruanos.

Con algunos amigos peruanos.

My decision to commit to praying in silence for 10-15 minutes each day seemed pretty simple. In the weeks leading up to Lent, I was overwhelmed by words, both others’ and my own. I felt like I was surrounding myself in noise almost all the time, and I knew I needed to do something deliberate, however insignificant, to address it. No matter how inconsequential or small the stretch of time was, I felt it was a first step in hopefully bringing some peace to the rest of my day and, even more hopefully, going deeper in my spiritual life.

I have been operating under the assumption that this is not a luxury, that it is really not too much to ask in life. In a sense, I still feel that way. I think we all need an occasional moment’s rest, a few seconds in which nothing calls our attention, if only to maintain our sanity.

What I have begun to consider in a new light, however, is that while we who yearn for silence in a modernized society must go against the grain to choose it, many others have no choice at all. For better or …

March 28th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

My meditation time has been abnormally silent this week.

This is probably an odd claim to make. Silence, after all, is one of the principal goals of my Lenten enterprise. Acknowledging silent prayer as being quiet is a little like recognizing a sunny day for being bright.

I am beginning to learn, however, that no matter how calm I manage to become on the interior, I have only so much control over the racket around me.

I — we all — have to reckon with noise pollution. It really is extraordinary how much sound there is in each of our little pockets of life. It is a rare moment there is not something humming in the air. I have personally become so accustomed to a world dense with sound that I do not actively notice it anymore. I imagine many of us feel this way.

I try to be intentional about my meditation, but it is simply beyond me to stop a car horn from honking or prevent my landlord from using power tools upstairs. I do what I can to insulate myself from these disturbances, but they nevertheless feel like disturbances.

That is why I have …

March 27th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

AP File Photo

AP File Photo

I am never so aware of my mind’s busyness as when I am trying to clear it. So much of my day is spent thinking, processing, judging, analyzing…using and abusing my head to no end. I am so accustomed to this way of being that it is no simple task to simply turn off for a few minutes.

Some of these thoughts are easy enough to ignore. A funny memory or recollection of something I read demands no action from me.

But often, the thoughts that come to me during my designated time of prayer command attention, calling out that I notice them immediately.

Sometimes, I think of something I need to remember to do later. Frequently, I mull over a problem that, for whatever reason, seems to have a pressing need to be solved.

I have found that forcing oneself not to think of something is pretty unhelpful. As Anthony de Mello pointed out, we are forever tied to that which we reject. Best to simply let the dilemmas enter and drift out of our minds in due course.

On days when I am feeling particularly overwhelmed going into my quiet time, however, I have found …

March 24th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

AP Photo

AP Photo

At the beginning of Lent, I was convinced the best way for me to feel close to God was in silent, contemplative solitude.

I still feel that way…to a degree. Over the course of the last two and a half weeks, however, I have also come to realize how crucial other forms of prayer and interaction are to making my time alone worthwhile.

Yesterday I made my first visit to a food pantry run by Catholics in my neighborhood. Though I have done some volunteering since the end of my time with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), this felt new.

I am sure some guilt drove me to get up and work at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, but the desire ran deeper. On some level, I had begun to feel disconnected from others and, in turn, the divine. Sure, I spend time with people all day at work and with friends on nights and weekends. But since leaving JVC, faith-based community has not really been part of my life. I generally do not go home after mass to reflect on the Gospel with my fellow attendees, whereas I had done this while living in Peru.

Volunteering this …

March 8th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence



If the title of this blog post made you think of the African American spiritual, click here. If it reminded you of the Paul McCartney and Wings classic, click here. And if I’m an idiot for wasting your time with this stuff, click here.

Now, on to Lent.

My  practice of spending 10-15 minutes a day in intentional silence has begun swimmingly enough, which is really to say I have not missed any of Lent’s three days. God must be overwhelmed by my heroic efforts.

So far, I have done  all my meditations in my bedroom. I live on the first floor of a beautiful house in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. The building is more than 100 years old and has many fine qualities. Thick, sound-proof walls is not one of them.

A few minutes into my Ash Wednesday meditation, as I sat cross-legged on my bed and wondered when my 10 minutes would be up, I was startled by a noise next door. It was the unmistakable sound of someone using unnecessary strength to pound on a door.

“STEVE!” a voice bellowed. “HEY, STEVE!”

‘Hey back at you, jackass,’ I thought. ‘Why don’t you give Steve …

March 5th, 2014
40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence
The Lenten candle, on fire and in action.

The Lenten candle, on fire and in action.

Ah, Lent. At no time of year is the discrepancy between my ambition and ability more evident.

In years past, I have generally seen Lent as an opportunity to accomplish personal goals and address shortcomings. Tired of eating so much chocolate? Give it up for Lent. Want to write an epic one-man musical about the life of Theodore Roosevelt? Set up a strict schedule, and do it for Lent.

In years when I was feeling particularly industrious, I even came up with two or  three Lenten practices! Inevitably, I failed and probably did so for a number of reasons. Some of my Lenten ideas were dumb, e.g. the Teddy Roosevelt musical. Others were overly-zealous, e.g. the Teddy Roosevelt musical. Others had nothing to do with the real meaning of Lent, e.g. the Teddy Roosevelt musical and virtually all the rest.

What is the real meaning of Lent, then?

I suspect it is largely about conscientiously examining our spiritual and everyday lives and exploring behaviors we might adopt or turn from that will ultimately bring us closer to God.

This is not to say my past Lenten goals could not have feasibly led …

March 20th, 2013
A young man holds the U.S. flag as people wait for the first Angelus prayer of Pope Francis (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A young man holds the U.S. flag as people wait for the first Angelus prayer of Pope Francis (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A week in and it’s clear: Pope Francis is a man of surprises.

It started minutes after his election to the See of Saint Peter. He appeared on the loggia in a simple white cassock to greet the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Before blessing the faithful and the merely curious in the traditional formula, Francis asked the crowd to bless him first in silent prayer. And for 30 seconds, they and hundreds of millions of people watching throughout the world joined in silent prayer for the new Holy Father.

That moment evidenced that Francis is clearly just that: holy. His closeness with all of us during these days of great trial and possibility is so clear. His predecessor, Benedict the Meek, was a brilliant theologian who taught the Church, especially young Catholics, who Jesus Christ was and continues to be. In his first encyclical, Benedict said that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a …

June 25th, 2012

Take 5 minutes out of your day and be silent with a friend. …

February 28th, 2012

“With Pleasure.”

These are the only words spoken by the hero of The Artist — this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture — in approximately 100 minutes of screen time. These two little words reverberate far more than the wall of sound that fills our lives at any given moment.

What does it say that this year’s most honored film at the Academy Awards celebrates silence? The success of The Artist, Oscar’s other big winner, Hugo (which also picked up five awards), and fellow nominee The Help, speaks to a need in our culture that goes beyond entertainment. Their public and critical popularity is due in large part to nostalgia. I’m not talking about the kind of cloying, empty nostalgia found on a show like VH1′s I Love the 80s or similar fare; rather, a deliberate, pointed nostalgia that has very specific demands for the present moment. These films demonstrate via the medium of the past what we are lacking in our culture today.

Like all significant works of art, they raise questions that demand answers from both the world we live in and ourselves: Where is the desire and belief that a small group of people …

April 12th, 2011

FAST from all talking today (to be in solidarity with those who do not have freedom of speech.)

PRAY for universal human rights.

GIVE a donation to a human rights organization or place $10 in your FPG bowl. (Your Fast Pray Give Bowl is a container you’ve set aside to hold the money saved from various fasting challenges, to be used for whatever charity you choose at the end of Lent.)…

March 23rd, 2011

FAST from unnecessary conversation today.

PRAY to hear God in the silence.

GIVE time today to listen to someone who needs a friendly ear.…

January 29th, 2011

sparehalfologue-flashScientific American has a fun podcast on one of the more irksome elements of modern life: Hearing half of the inane conversation of a fellow passenger on mass transportation.

Researchers have found that it is more distracting to listen to half of a conversation — dubbed a halfalogue — than it is to listen to two people chatting in front of you. Although, as someone who spends a lot of time working at coffee shops, it’s really distracting to a) listen to someone get fired; b) hear to one woman offer bad dating advice to another woman; and c) try to focus when two men are discussing their weight-lifting regimens – and the importance of interspersing yoga three days a week – in very loud voices. But I digress.

Reports FoxNews.com

Whether it is the office, on a train or in a car, only half of the conversation is overheard which drains more attention and concentration than when overhearing two people talking, according to scientists at Cornell University.

“We have less control to move away our attention from half a conversation (or halfalogue) than when listening to a dialogue,” said Lauren Emberson, a co-author of the study that will be …

June 7th, 2010
Protect the silence in your day and consider a silent retreat this summer

“Words are very
— Depeche Mode

There is not enough silence in the world. More than ever before, daily life consists of a near-constant bombardment of noise and messaging.

When I am introducing people to Centering Prayer meditation, the first challenge for many is the simple weirdness for them of being silent and in silence, “alone” with their thoughts, for more than a few minutes. Between cell phones, iPods, the radio on at work or in the car, and the TV flipped on the moment they walk in their door, they manage to keep background noise going all day.

The paradox with meditation and other forms of silent prayer, and especially with silent retreats, is that even though they are formless and goalless, they achieve something wonderful — something potentially transformative: they create space, physical and mental space, to become more open.

That space, made most apparent by silence, can be an uncomfortable place to be. Why is this? Why is the weirdness threatening for some? One answer is that offered by Fr. Jim Martin in his latest book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Anything:

We may fear silence because we fear what we might hear from the …

April 1st, 2010

Fast from the pressure of the clock today.  Go at your own pace.

Pray: Find a few quiet minutes, at work, at home to be still, silent and present.

Give some time today to someone who needs it.…

March 6th, 2010

Fast from unnecessary talking.

Offer a silent prayer of thanks where you’re not asking for anything.

Give someone your full attention.…

April 14th, 2009
A BustedHalo video feature

Faith, spirituality and religion are too often looked upon as the province of “experts” who spend all their time in places of worship. At BustedHalo.com we frequently hear from readers who desperately want to explore their spiritual questions but feel alienated from traditional faith communities. The fact is that our experience of sacredness is as unique and personal as our fingerprints, but we sometimes fail to recognize these moments as God’s way of speaking to us in our everyday lives.

“Where’s God?” chronicles the countless different ways people experience transcendence. In episode #2 Ph.D. student Tara Good describes her experience of God outside the walls of church.

We encourage readers to share their own experiences with us at: editor@bustedhalo.com

Originally published May 29th, 2007

March 13th, 2009

Return to the Lent calendar.

Lent Quotable

It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal.— Helen Keller

Fast from any unnecessary talking. If your day is filled with idle chatter (both verbal and electronic), try to speak only when necessary and only about significant things.

Pray for 15 minutes in purposeful silence, trying to quiet your mind and listen to how God might be speaking to you in your life.

Give a small donation or help to a group that has no voice. Alternatively, drop $2 in your FastPrayGive Bowl. (Your FastPrayGive Bowl is a container you’ve set aside to hold the money saved from various fasting challenges, to be used for whatever charity you choose at the end of Lent.)

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