Lerita Coleman Brown
Love Affair with Silence and Solitude
"The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic; Our spirits resound with clashing, with noisy silences, While something deep within hungers and thirsts for the still moment and the resting lull.” Howard Thurman
I’m not certain when my own love affair with silence and solitude began. I grew up with two brothers, and as the only girl in the family at the time, was granted my own bedroom. This personal sanctuary, away from the din of television, radio, and family life, offered a blanket of serenity. I spent many hours in silence looking out the window, reading, and daydreaming. Attendance at mass, as part of my parochial school elementary education, forged a link in my mind between silence and sacredness. When we entered the sanctuary, we were only allowed to whisper, and we sat quietly in our pews until an usher’s signal to stand for the procession.
Later, in my adult years, I found the practice of sitting in silence in the morning–letting go of my thoughts and focusing inward to hear the voice of God–to relax and anchor me. This form of prayer did not remove all the stress of my life as a college professor. But I coped better with the stressors when I established a deep connection with my Creator through the habit of quieting my mind and stilling my heart.
The first of Thurman’s books that I read was Meditations of the Heart, and in it I learned that Thurman championed silence, solitude, and stillness. The first section of Meditations of the Heart titled “The Inward Sea,” contains many meditations about silence. “Silence is a Door to God,” “In Quiet One Discovers the Will of God,” “A Lull in the Rhythm of Doing,” “In the Moment of Pause, the Vision of God,” and my favorite, “How Good to Center Down!” In this most instructive meditation, Howard Thurman notes how important it is to pause and connect with God: “How Good to Center Down!” Thurman writes. “To sit quietly and see one’s self pass by! The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic; Our spirits resound with clashing, with noisy silences, While something deep within hungers and thirsts for the still moment and the resting lull.”*
*Lerita Coleman Brown, What Makes You Come Alive: A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Broadleaf Books, 2023), 24-25.
Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Agnes Scott College, is a spiritual director/companion, writer, retreat leader, and speaker. She earned her BA from UC Santa Cruz and PhD from Harvard University. Lerita completed the Spiritual Guidance Program at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation and promotes contemplative spirituality, the living wisdom of Howard Thurman, and uncovering the peace and joy in one’s heart on her website,leritacolemanbrown.com and other social media platforms. She appears in the documentaries, "Back Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story", and "The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song". Her book, When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom was published in 2019. Her newest book, What Makes You Come Alive: A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman will be published in February. Lerita is a most grateful heart (28 years) and kidney (17 years) transplant recipient and survivor of several other medical ordeals.