Deep Thought Oct/Nov 2022

Deep thought, Denise Stephenson Oct 2022

The Sound of Silence

Or perhaps, the ‘Fear of Silence’?

Deep ThoughtA bi-monthly feature in ReCharge

Maybe we fear silence because we think it will be empty.

By Denise Stephenson
jesus was in the stern sleeping on a chusion. Mk 45:38 (NIV) 
Fear of Silence, Denise Stephenson Deep Thought Oct 2022

Each morning I listen to a short, guided meditation using the Lectio 365 app. Every day, the morning begins with these words:

“As I enter prayer now, I pause to be still; to breathe slowly, to re-centre my scattered senses upon the presence of God.”1

These words fall on me, inviting me to detach myself from all that has been happening, and all that will unfold during the day, inviting me to turn my attention from the storm of life and curl up beside Jesus in the stern of the boat. (Mark 4:35-41)

I long for quiet spaces. Constant noise, whether it is chatter, traffic, background music, exhaust fans (the worst!) makes me irritated, unsettled and distracted. But quiet spaces are becoming rarer in our public and private lives. People are, it seems, uncomfortable with silence and go to great lengths to avoid it.

Having been a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader for over 22 years, I have seen how unsettled people become when a moment of silence begins to draw out from seconds to minutes. Many people become restless, anxious and fearful. The pressure is on to bring the silence to a close. In a group of people, someone often seems compelled to say something to end the silence.

Why do we fear silence so much?

Diving through the ‘surface’ of ourselves, of the noise and chatter of our lives, we find a deeper current of peace

Maybe it is because when we quiet our mouth, our mind goes into overdrive. All the thoughts buried under busyness have space to express themselves and they hammer at the door of our mind, demanding to be heard. This feels overwhelming, but if “we allow our mind to simply listen, we perhaps begin to hear our heart speak – faintly, beneath the clatter. It says, ‘I am so weary, so lost. I have no energy to redeem myself. How I long for rest.”2

When we dive beneath the surface of a stormy sea, we leave the turmoil on the surface. Only a few meters down, the water is perfectly calm. This image can help us as we come to prayer: diving through the ‘surface’ of ourselves, of the noise and chatter of our lives, we find a deeper current of peace.

Quiet prayer tunes in to the deeper current of our innermost desires and fears. When we bring this deeper self to God in prayer, God speaks in ways that bring healing, hope and strength.3


"Gazing in silent wonder at the expace of a glorious sunset or sinmrise we feel our smallness in the face of God's greatness." 
Fear of Silence, Denise Stephenson Deep Thought Oct 2022

The unsettling, uncomfortable experience of silence, or quietness, that we may experience arises from our unfamiliarity with this space.

Places that were once quiet (libraries, cinemas, churches) aren’t anymore. Quiet spaces are counter-cultural and becoming rare, and yet we need these spaces to give meaning to our lives.

Without the silent listening after our words of prayer, we cannot hear God’s speaking to our heart:

– A pause following a friend sharing from the heart, allows the words to be honoured. It stops us hurrying carelessly to words.

– In the silence, after someone breathes their final breath, we hear the release from pain and the sense the soul’s ending.

– In the quiet of waiting for another to arrive we experience our longing for connection.

Sitting in the stillness

Practicing stillness, quiet, and silence, grows a sacred space within

Maybe we fear silence because we think it will be empty. But silence can be rich with meaning, and emotion. It takes conscious intention to notice the quiet pauses in daily living.

It takes practice to sit in the stillness. You may think there is nowhere quiet in your life. You might be surprised. Moments of quiet are all around us – but we need to tune in to where these moments are. Turn off the tv, just for a moment – mute the sound during the ad breaks; take your earpods out and stare out the window; lift your eyes from the screen as you drink your coffee. Just take a quiet moment.

Practicing stillness, quiet, and silence, grows a sacred space within that resonates with the Spirit’s presence in us.

So, let’s pause to be still; to breathe slowly, to re-centre our scattered senses upon the presence of God.4

Denise Stephenson

Denise Stephenson

Denise Stephenson is a Spiritual Director and Retreat Leader, who completed her formation training at Wellspring Centre (Melbourne) in 2000. She continues to practice as a Spiritual Director, leads prayer days, retreats and workshops, focused on introducing contemplative spirituality and practice to those who have not experienced it.
She has attended LifeWay Baptist Church for most of her life, being part of the Leadership team for many years, working as Office Manager, and then as Pastor for Spiritual Formation 2018-2020.
Since moving to Lymington in the Huon Valley in 2021, Denise and her husband Mark (in partnership with LifeWay Baptist Church) are exploring growing a community of faith centred round their Long Table, food, hospitality and contemplative practice.

  1. Lectio 365 app
  2. Henri J. M. Nouwen
  3. Margaret Silf, Taste and See: Adventuring into Prayer, Darton Longman and Todd, London, 2000pp10-11.
  4. Lectio 365 app

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Fear of Silence

Keeping it Real – #nofilter Church

Keeping it Real, #nofilter church
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food for thought:

By Denise Stephenson
Heartlands News
Denise Stephenson

Denise Stephenson is a trained Spiritual Director and, until December 2020, was Spiritual Formation Pastor at LifeWay Baptist Church Devonport. What is #nofilter church? Read on to find out!

I love Instagram!

All those squares filled with beautiful pictures of magical places, designer interiors, and adorable children dressed in linen!

Most of us (on our good days) recognise that Instagram is the home of “This Filtered Life”. Isn’t it tempting to apply a “filter” to life so it looks good on the outside?

Whilst none of us really expects social media to be an honest reflection of life, most of us hope our communities of faith would be the one place we feel safe enough to be our “unfiltered” self. But if I am honest, church is often a place, as much as any other, where I have felt pressure to look, act or feel a particular kind of way.

We say, “Come as you are”, but really we mean come if you feel upbeat, on top of things, happy and well – and if you’re not, at least try act as if you are. Apply the “worship” filter where it’s smiling, happy people holding hands. “We’re here to worship God!!” Amen?!

We try and “stay together”

What would our community of faith look like if it was #nofilter? Denise Stephenson

What would our community of faith, and our worship, look like if it was #nofilter? In the weeks following my husband Mark’s cancer diagnosis, I really didn’t feel like going to church. But, being one of the pastors, I turned up to church each week, determined to keep it all ‘together’. I had my “filter” firmly in place.

As soon as the songs started, every word would punch into my gut, and I would start crying… which was the LAST thing I wanted to do. Welcome to #nofilter! It was awful but it was real. Without me noticing, people would come to stand with me, and after the service, friends would slip into the chair beside me and pray for me.

I would go home, still in pain, still afraid, a blotchy, red-faced teary mess but having what I needed to keep going.

Embrace what God does for you

It takes guts to show our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, and our messiness – to be real. But that’s exactly what God wants from us. God isn’t fooled by the filter, and wants to see the real person made in his image. I find that such a relief. I love The Message translation of Romans 12:1-2 which says:

Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life–and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 

Romans 12:1-2 MSG

Let’s start #nofilter Sunday, and see what happens when we give God our real self. I think it could change church.

For good!

Denise Stephenson

Denise, and her husband Mark, recently moved to Lymington (south of Cygnet) where they are exploring new ways of being a community of faith in their new neighbourhood. Even so, Denise still works in Cygnet as an offshoot of LifeWay Devonport. Denise and Mark sail, garden, chop wood (it’s cold down here!) and hang out in cafes, getting to know their new neighbourhood, and keeping a lookout for what God is doing down in the deep south.



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