Phileena Heuertz: The Importance of Silence, Solitude, and Stillness


By Claire Spychalla, Class of 2015

Phileena Heuertz came to speak in chapel and then had a talk-back session with some of us in the Honors Lodge. In her time in chapel, she spoke mainly on the practices of silence, solitude, and stillness. During her talk-back time, she elaborated on why these three things are important. The main thing that they do for us is that they remove some of the big idols that we tend to have and help us to rely solely on God. The three main idols that she talked about were achievement, security, and relationships. These are all good things, but we cannot define ourselves by them. If we tend to find our value in achievement, for instance, then by intentionally setting aside time for stillness we are able to focus on being in God’s presence and enjoying Him, rather than trying to do things for Him. Similarly, if we make relationships an idol, then by practicing solitude we find ourselves alone with God and learn to find our identity in Him apart from other people. Finally, if we struggle with issues of security, then by being silent before God we can silence the voices of our culture, other people, Satan, etc. and listen only to the voice of God, who tells us who we are. Phileena concludes that there really is no better way to overcome our idolatry than by practicing solitude, silence, and stillness in our lives.

Phileena has practiced these three things in her life for many years, and as a result, her relationship to God and her beliefs about what a full and obedient life looks like have changed. In particular, she talked about how, as she spent time with God, she had what she calls a “feminine awakening.” She realized that she had been living her life based on some assumptions about gender roles that were restricting, and as she thought more deeply about what it means to be a woman versus a man, her role in her marriage and in her work began to change. She believes that women’s gifts and talents have been overlooked by a patriarchal church, and she thinks that women ought to have just as much freedom to do what God has gifted them to do as men have. As a woman who has been raised in a church that emphasized differences in gender roles, I’m not sure if I agree with her or not. It is something I have been thinking about a lot, and it is helpful for me to hear her talk about her spiritual journey to get to the place where she is at. Mainly, she wanted to emphasize to us that if we are serious about seeking God, He will lead us into truth, even though that truth may go against what the world tells us. I have been encouraged by listening to her, and I think as a result of hearing her speak, I now have a broader perspective of prayer that will be helpful to me as I grow in my relationship with God.

The Sound of Silence

Jessica Baide (Class of 2016) describes her experience with silence at a monastery in Kentucky:

This retreat could not have come at a more perfect time. The semester was raging on and was beginning to get the better of me. While I consider myself a very busy college student, I usually observe the Sabbath to some degree and set-aside time to ensure that my spiritual life doesn’t suffer at the hands of my stress. However, I was beginning to slip. I had neglected the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate over spring break; instead choosing to fill it with all that I could to “make the most” of my time home. I rushed back to school, with literally not a minute to spare. And now the chaos was beginning to creep in. School began to feel over-whelming, I was skipping small group and compromising on my Sundays. I was even too stressed to take the time out for a much needed and wanted retreat. But once we headed out, I tried to set all of this aside to remember the importance of silence and rest and to observe the lifestyle of a monk.

Jessica Baide

            College does not hold a reputation as an arena for silence. Even as I write on this very “quiet” morning I hear my upstairs neighbor romping around, a door slam and I glance over at my roommates schedule to see when I will forfeit the solitude of the room. As usual I ignore all of this, but the truly nagging screaming “noise” comes from my planner. If I were to set aside this homework for a moment to think I’m sure it would taunt me saying “you won’t have time for lunch,” “only three hours until you leave for class,” “don’t forget to stop by Ayers and the Union.” Even when I do manage to find a quiet place on campus I find there is no silence.

Escaping to Kentucky required a four-hour car ride, a meditation, and some sleep for these thoughts to play themselves out and exhaust themselves in my head. Then slowly but surely something new crept in. A stranger began to ring in my head. At 5:30 on Saturday morning sitting in a cold van only that voice of silence touched my thoughts. Weird. The ever-present scrolling to do list was finally gone. Not that I really noticed at the time. For once I wasn’t thinking about what I was thinking about. Instead I simply sat there embracing the cold.

Now wouldn’t that be nice to simply be laying here on my couch and let my mind be still. Hold on let me give that a try. Hmm… Not quite. Even as I tried to ignore the obnoxious ongoing clicking of my heater, I hear the dull ringing of the bell tower chiming noon in the background and my mind quickly calculates how much time I have left. As wonderful as it was to get away and finally be silent physically and mentally, that is a practice that is going to take some work. I’d like to be able to get back to that without the prerequisite 4 hour car ride to restore my state of mind. Perhaps someday with some practice a walk to the prayer chapel could suffice. I wonder how long it took the monks to “settle in.” To quit thinking of the enormity of their decision, any loose ends they had left, the consequences of their actions. Surely they don’t change over night. I don’t expect to either.

This retreat showed me a glimpse of that peace that comes from silence and rest. I’ve been chasing that all year. I’ve been trying to read my way through The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan about the practice of Sabbath keeping. But rather ironically I’ve chosen to read it one chapter at a time when I can squeeze it in between my other “restful” practices on Sunday. Somehow I don’t imagine that is how the author wanted his book read. The book is full of great ideas and ways to apply them but I hadn’t really experienced much true rest from reading it. However, this weekend showed me what this book has been trying to get at. I felt God’s rest and peace as I sat in the Monastery.

Simplicity and sustainability have felt like noble concepts, but not very helpful or relevant for me. Yet when I think of the restful days in the Bahamas or the quiet time at Gethsemane I begin to see their value. This theme transcends recycling and really hits me as I look at it as a practice for restoring peace to my daily life. These two escapes have given me opportunities to see what a sustainable pace of life feels like. After the taste of calm this past weekend, I hope to finish this semester peacefully by instilling simplicity and sustainability into my daily life embracing one quiet moment at a time.