Monday, May 26, 2008

Deliver Us from Me-Ville on quiet time and loud time

My colleague Dave Zimmerman, who shares an office wall with me, just wrote a new book Deliver Us from Me-Ville about escaping self-absorption. (I find it amusing and ironic that the inescapable subject category on the back by the bar code happens to be "Personal Growth.") One part of the book contrasts the traditional Christian emphasis on "quiet time" (personal devotional time with God) with what Dave calls "loud time," which he highlights as "the devotional value of time spent throughout the day in the company of others."

This line jumped out at me: "By privileging solitude - 'quiet time' - over fellowship as a means of identifying God at work, we privilege our own instincts over the instincts of others."

In other words, one of the dangers of personal quiet time is that it's inherently individualistic. Left to our own devices, we risk running astray and subjectively misconstruing our relationship with God in terms that merely benefit our own preconceived ideas. We need community to temper our individualism, to provide a corrective to isolation and self-absorption. Of course, there is a place for both solitude and community. Dave highlights Bonhoeffer's famous quotes on this: "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone."

I suspect that personality differences also play a role in this. I remember when Dave started his Loud Time blog, and I thought it was a cool name and idea, as an alternative to evangelical quiet time. He said something about how Christian spirituality tends to prioritize the contemplative introvert who encounters God in solitude and silence, leaving extroverts at a loss as to how to connect with God in ways that fit them.

So I was interested to see Nancy Reeves's new book Spirituality for Extroverts (And Tips for Those Who Love Them). Reeves says that some of us are Tiggers, and some of us are Owls. Owls are comfortable with silent prayer retreats, while Tiggers might feel unspiritual because they don't connect with God as well that way. Some of us are contemplatives, others of us are activists. We need each other to temper our own tendencies and to keep us in balance.

I've greatly appreciated the literature of the spiritual formation movement (especially of my author David Benner, as well as other books in our Formatio line). But I confess that it does not come naturally to me. I've never had anything remotely approaching a consistent (or even occasional!) daily "quiet time." But I've been glad that even contemplatives understand that spiritual life is sometimes activist and sometimes communal, not just private and personal. There's a place for both quiet time and loud time.


Anonymous said...

Argument: Quiet time and loud time- contrasting styles and is a personal choice.
But the nuance of the argument may reveal that in essence they are the same with procedural difference.

Focus on quite time, a state of mere physical isolation from the world does not constitute personal quiet time rather it is a state of personal understanding of mind by individual effort. A quite time is achieved when the mental turmoil subsides and mind reaches state of awareness and is able to grasp the real from the unreal. If an aspirant during his quiet time or contemplation, concocts seemingly great ideas or strengthens his misconstrued or preconceived notions (good/bad) then the aspirant has not established himself in quiet time (you call relation with God); the aspirant is still an activist within his mind like an extrovert who is an activist in the outside world. Similarly in the end, when a degree of perfection is reached within the mind of contemplative aspirant then the thought and the thinker will unite, similar to a perfected extrovert who loses the distinction between himself and outside world, he unites with everything around. Thus, both enter the state of true awareness or what is referred by the author as time with God. Thus, quite time and loud time in its essence the same but the path to reach the goal is different and is personal choice.

Aspirants of contemplative style need not fear lack of tempering of their individualism but rather supplement the process by lucid understanding of principals behind the contemplative process and also strive to be established firmly within his personal school thought- dualistic, non-dualistic or the middle path; this would inherently temper their egos.

Wise would put it this way, refrain from tempering ones mind forcefully by a faith based religious texts rather allow your logic to temper with established philosophical wisdom; religious text seldom philosophical.

Faith is the stumbling block in contemplative process. A philosophically trained atheist & skeptics thus have a far greater chance of advancement than faithful, but my opinion may be far too generalized and may be wrong.

Anonymous said...

This resonates with me. I'm an interesting mixture of introvert and extrovert, but the key is that I process externally, whether through verbalizing things and working things through in community, journaling, blogging, whatever. While in some senses, people wear me out and I have come to protect my isolation times, I can't grow in isolation.
I need my loud time.
Many use contemplation for growth, but I agree that it's also become a huge problem (been a huge problem, I should say) in the Church--folding away into self, making Scripture about what it means to me personally (rather than a communal identity).
I like that Dave identifies God's working differently in different personalities, which allows certain personalities to stop feeling less spiritual.

Anonymous said...

hi Al, I look forward to meeting you at envision 08. I hope the following critique of why there is no organized Christian influence in engineering profession is of some interest.


Peter Heltzel
Conference Co-director
Envision 08

Hi Peter Heltzel,

I attended Brian McLaren's "Everything Must Change" tour's Charlotte, NC stop and have attended a number of events, somewhat similar to EV08, generally only one or two a year, over past 10 years or so.

My critique is that they are largely by, of, and for members of the "religion profession" and of limited relevance to Christians who belong to secular professions, making them of little value, at least insofar as the "everything" in "everything must change."

Let me describe, based on my experience, one thing that will not be stated or implied in any of the tracks - that anyone participating EV08 might be reasonably expected to face opportunities to "suffer for righteousness' sake" in their secular professions by resisting or exposing institutional wrongdoing. Nor will there be any discussion about how or whether Christians should be an organized influence in their secular professions as part of being "salt and light" within them.

Instead, I predict we will be told to write a letters politicians, write a check to an organization, pray, and read the bible. I take no exception to any of those things, they all need to be done. But, I suggest, it's not fully consistent with "God's will be done, on earth as in heaven," nor is it enough to expect of the extraordinarily blessed audience EV08 will have. Their "blessings" likely include opportunities to "suffer for righteousness' sake" in their secular professions/places of employment - by resisting the institutional evil that so infects, if not permeates, so many secular workplaces and corporate employers. I say "blessed" because, in addition to the beatitude, given all the apparently senseless suffering extant in world, to "suffer for righteousness' sake" - which involves a conscious choice at some point - in a privilege, in a sense, even though it be suffering nonetheless.

Why will this not be said? "love of money is the root of all evil" I Tim 6:10, and, you know and I know that many of the attendees are really and truly like the "rich young ruler" of Luke 18, Matt 19, and Mark 10. But their most valuable economic asset is their standing in their secular profession and they will not take any risks regarding it - and they will walk away if asked to. That is why their is no organized Christian influence in any secular profession, and why the lack of such "salt and light" enabled much institutional evil and inhibits much good from being accomplished via institutions - it might involve Christians "boat rocking" in their professions and that would not be good for their personal economies, and that "is the bottom line." So, instead, perhaps partially out of guilt, we go to something as EV08 and no one objects to how we profit by enabling, instead of resisting, much institutional evil related to how we earn our livings, so it must be okay, right?

Truth be told, the religious professionals take no issue with this, because doing so would not be good for their personal economies either. So the religious professionals stay in their professional lane of delivering religious goods and services, take no exception to what the secular professionals in their spheres of influence do in their professional lanes, while taking their money for their services.

But do you really think the issues being considered in some, if not most, of the learning tracks can be properly addressed absent Christians in the relevant secular professions being an organized influence within them to counter the institutional forces behind the issues of concern?

Please consider the title - "envision, the gospel, politics, and the future." I suggest it should be "envision, the gospel, the created order, and the future," or "envision, the gospel, the public square, and the future," or "envision, the gospel, civil society, and the future" - why does "politics" get such preferred treatment in the title? Why does the vision statement's "possible impact on the public sphere" get reduced, in the "purpose statement," to "the role of Christians in politics"?

I come from a context which includes my having tapped all too many multi-megatonage nuclear warheads on their depleted uranium tips, from my having suffered and sacrificed much "for righteousness' sake," for many years, to do my duty to protect others as a licensed professional engineer, including confronting, repeatedly, gov't lawbreaking, via rule of law (this is now established legal facts), to be told "God will bless you in heaven" by many religious leaders, who would not criticize the final, legally established record of gov't lawbreaking against me - making me and my sacrifice a "speeding ticket." (google my name if you want more details.0

Please, Peter Heltzel, don't concern yourself about me personally - my concerns included ones about the safeguards and security of America's nuclear stockpile - I suggest you would do better to worry about you and your family in NYC, an obvious target for a nuclear 9/11, when someone like me can fight for years to confront such lawbreaking, "succeed" at it, only to find the church does not really care - because it is not in its economic interest to criticize a major economic player as my gov't employer.

Thanks for listening, I look forward to meeting you and many others at EV08!

Your co-worker in His vineyard,

Joe Carson, PE
President, Affiliation of Christian Engineers