As I was working on a book about teaching prayer, it occurred to me that the chapter on silence would make a good blog. So here it is with a few adaptations . . . All of us have memories stashed away that bear out the truth of the saying “silence is golden.” Maybe you remember walking into the peace of your own home after a noisy party, or taking a stroll before anyone else was awake, or gazing at a baby fast asleep. Such times are valuable because they draw us more deeply into reality. Usually the world packs our minds with a million noises: music, chatter, commercials, traffic sounds, crowds. Sheltered from these distractions, we are free to concentrate on essentials. In silence we find truth goodness, and beauty. In silence we discover who we are. Silence is the air that our spirit must breathe if our spiritual life is to thrive.
What is vitally important is that when we sink into silence, we come face to face with God. To be still we must cease our frantic pace, quiet our bodies, curb our racing minds, and close our mouths. Only when we are still can we be attuned to the voice of God speaking from the eternal silence. This is the message of Elijah’s encounter with Yahweh. Elijah journeys to the mountain of God and there God is revealed, not in a mighty wind, not in an earthquake, not in fire, but in the sound of a gentle breeze.
Jesus, our exemplar for sound living, valued silence. He prepared for his public life by a 40-day private retreat in the wilderness. Before choosing his apostles, “He departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). He often rose before dawn or drew apart from the crowds to commune with God alone, to celebrate their bond of love, and to center his life and his work on God’s will. Jesus recommended prayer in solitude to his followers: “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6).
We believe that the Trinity lives within us. Quiet solitude enables us to attend to the divine presence. We can adore God in the depths of our being, delight in God’s loving presence, and strengthen our love for God. As a prayer card rightly states, “Silence is the profound activity of listening love.” Refreshed and encouraged by loving encounters with God, we can better meet the challenges of life.
People who seek God have always reserved silent spaces in their lives. St. Thomas More, who was Chancellor of English in the sixteenth century, prayed every morning from two to six-o’clock! For centuries men and women religious have practiced silence. Serious Christians participate in days of recollection, retreats, and renewals in which silence plays a major role. During liturgical celebrations “at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.”
In the Christmas liturgy we hear “When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word” (Wisdom 18:14–15). Our silent hearts invite another incarnation. In the tranquility of silence the Word becomes living and active in us. Faith, hope, and love are born anew. We acquire the energy to live life to the hilt, and we increase our potential for eternal life.
- Am I afraid to be alone?
- Am I uncomfortable doing nothing?
- Do I occasionally treat myself to several hours of solitude and silence—in a park, at the beach, or some other secluded area?
- During how much of each day do I actually experience silence?
- Do I always have the radio on when I drive?
- In the quiet evening hours do I always watch TV, or do I sometimes pray, read, or reflect?
- After receiving Communion, do I pray—or watch people go by?
- How much time do I allow for daily prayer?
Jesus, you speak to me when I am silent. Once amid thunder and crashing waves when you said, “Peace, be still,” the wind and waves obeyed you. Now calm me. Lord, quiet my body so that I might rest in your presence. Silence my heart and mind so that I might wait attentively for your word. Then when I am still, speak, Lord, and I will listen.
Points to Ponder
- Good things happen in silence: The sun sets and rises, flowers grow, snow falls, stars shine, and cookies bake. You can see deer, catch fish, read, a book, and work out a problem.
- Places where people keep silent: People keep silent in a library in order to concentrate, in a hospital so patients can rest and be healed, in a museum to better appreciate the masterpieces, in a cemetery out of respect for the dead, and in church to show reverence for God.
- Why we need silence: We need silence to think, to see things in a new perspective, to be at peace, to reflect on our lives, to be renewed, to enter the world within us, and to make contact with God.
Here is a peaceful song to prepare you for quiet prayer and a pregnant silence . . .