First Four Steps
From the desert monastic communities of Egypt and Judea in the 4th century: a young monk asks his elder how he can come closer to God. Elder tells him to go to the cemetery and insult the dead. Dutifully he goes, and upon return the elder asks: did you go to the cemetery? Yes. Did you insult the dead? Yes. Did they respond to you? No.
Now go back and praise the dead. Upon return: did they respond to you? No. When you can respond to the insults and praises of men the way the dead do, you will be closer to God.
The early church understood the value of unoffendability and unflatterability. Of learning that contentment, meaning, purpose, identity don’t depend on external opinion or circumstance, but a deep interior connection. Today, such values are not only lost, but our culture, both secular and religious, is built on noise, social approval, compulsive activity, and complexity. Re-establishing the deep interior connection Jesus calls being one with the Father means living salmon-like, swimming against the stream of our culture and our own minds.
Standing opposite the noise, social approval, activity, complexity of daily life, the Four S-es—silence, solitude, stillness, simplicity—are the launch pad for Jesus’ only Way to the Father. But their significance is much deeper than first glance.
Silence is not just the absence of sound, but not thinking about the noise that is present. Solitude is not being alone, but alone with Presence, a sense of connection to something larger than self. Stillness is not just absence of activity, but detachment from the compulsive need for busyness. Simplicity is not absence of complexity, but no longer needing circumstances, opinions, possessions for personal validation.
Bringing these four states of being into our daily routine changes our fundamental relationship with life and each other in ways we can’t fully anticipate—only experience. Stepping away from internal and external noise, the need for activity, accomplishment, and possessions to show us who we are, builds a quiet confidence and humility, the ability to hear the utter silence of God’s voice.