Updated: May 13, 2018
Over the past several years, silence is the one topic that has surfaced in every spiritual writing that I have read about spiritual formation. Unquestionably, it is a crucial part of our growth in prayer. The mental health professionals have also made it clear that our psyches need a quiet “down-time” in order to cope with the challenges of life and be creative and productive. No wonder mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have become common practices of many, even of those who would not necessarily describe themselves as being “spiritual”.
A few months ago, soon after I had moved to Denver, I went to view a documentary in a nearby cinema called In Pursuit of Silence. It was a striking review of the impact of noise in our lives and witness of those who have practiced silence.
On the way home, while walking down the quiet neighborhood road, my husband and I were speechless. By that, I mean we had no desire to fill the air with words and noise; we just wanted to be. I reflected on how full of noise my life used to be. I noticed how being at home most of the time in a new city where I hardly knew anyone and didn’t have a job yet had eliminated much of noise from my daily life. Also, the city itself and the neighborhood where we live is much quieter than my previous home. I started noting how this had impacted my inner life.
However, the silence that spiritual writers most often talk about is not limited to the physical silence. Rather, they write about silence as a state of an inner reality. A place where we come to a deep inner quiet. A rest where we are willing to pray, “God, free me from care for myself”.
Silence invites trust and surrender. It births clarity, rest, and peace within. It teaches us to listen. It also teaches us to speak, as it serves our development from unhelpful use of speech (striving to impress, critique, gossip, etc.). It reveals our inner-talk and makes us grow in self-knowledge. It frees us from (or makes us aware of) our addiction to noise and sound. It helps us to grow in awareness of and intimacy with God. Being silent, in the loving presence of God (not trying to numb or empty our minds, but to direct it to God and his love) bears much fruit.
Richard Foster writes, “Perhaps more than anything else silence brings us to believe that God can care for us – reputation and all.”
Although it is obvious that we are not merely talking about physical silence, practicing physical silence , is a necessary means to receiving the gift of the deeper, inner silence. I have attended a few silent retreats and taken a vow of silence in a daily life for a period of time. And even though I am an introvert, and being by myself isn’t generally a difficulty to me, coming to a deep silence within is never easy for me. It takes time, intentionality, and practice.
When Henri J. M. Nouwen describes the power and beauty of silence, he makes an important distinction,
“...all this is true only when the silence from which the word comes forth is not emptiness and absence, but fullness and presence, not the human silence of embarrassment, shame, or guilt, but the divine silence in which love rests secure.”
I have experienced this reality when, a few years ago, I tried to engage in the Centering Prayer (a practice of silent, loving attention to God). After my prayer times, I felt more distant and separated from God than close and embraced by him. Once I started talking about my frustration and disappointment with the practice with a spiritual director, I realized that I was not in a place with God at the time that I could enjoy his presence in silence. It felt like a “silent treatment” and cold absence rather than a loving union. I started talking about this and many other things to Jesus. I realized that only after I had recovered my sense of connection to him by the use of words, he may invite me into this form of prayer of silence. When we are rooted in the deep knowing of God’s love and the experience of it, silent prayer is a wonderful way to cherish this love and enjoy the union with God.
How does silence make you feel?
How do you do “the work of silence”?
What is your experience of silence in prayer?
What would it be like for you to sit silently in the presence of God for five minutes?
Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, Martin Laird
The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence, Henri J.M. Nouwen
Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation, M Robert Mulholland Jr.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
Seeking the Kingdom, Devotions for the Daily Journey of Faith, Richard J. Foster
In Pursuit of Silence Movie (Watch the official trailer below)
If you want to experience guided silent prayer, silent retreat or be accompanied by a spiritual director on your journey of practicing silence as a spiritual practice, I would love to chat with you. Feel free to browse my website for more information here.