Silence is a fundamental and crucial aspect of discovering the living God. Equally, silence is a fundamental and crucial aspect of discovering one’s self. But to practice silence is… very hard. If you are like me, someone who tends to “live in their head”, with a mind that is always churning and churning, thoughts after thoughts, then any attempt to quieten down and rest in silence is… near impossible!
When we speak of silence we are really speaking about contemplation or meditation. This is something which – certainly in the Catholic tradition – we have been very bad at doing. In my lifetime, and certainly when I was young, Catholics were expected to do certain religious acts such as going to mass on a Sunday, but the focus was always on the action, and not a lot of emphasis was put on a deep relationship with God. For so many people it was a case of “going through the motions” – a numbers game in fact. As long as the churches were packed, and the money was put in the plate, then all was well with the Church! Perhaps not surprising then that, as societal mores have loosened and authority figures have lost their power, that many folk have just stopped going to church: there never was any real spirit behind what they were doing. If there is a positive nowadays it is surely that folk who go to church go because they really want to.
There is today a wonderful teaching helping us to rediscover the value and importance of silence and of a deepened spiritual relationship with God. Teachers such as Thomas Keating and Richard Rohr are stressing the critical importance of both action and contemplation. One without the other is a poor way to try and follow Jesus. Both matter, and perhaps because we’ve always tended to stress action, we now desperately need to stress and practice contemplation.
One technique as a way into silence is what is called Centering Prayer. This consists in being quiet and still for a period of twenty minutes or so, ideally twice a day. The point is to try and be present to God in the silence, not saying anything and trying not to focus on thoughts which will inevitably cross your mind. We cannot really stop thoughts coming into our mind but we can try to just let them go past and persist in focusing on – silence. We can use techniques such as a ‘sacred word’ to assist us to return to focus. As I say, this is not easy, especially for someone like me.
What is the benefit of trying to remain in this silence? Perhaps best to google “centering prayer” and follow some of the many links to find out more.
For me, I know that silence is the key to a deeper experience of the God of love. Without silence, my faith is largely an intellectual affair, expressed in such things as blogs! As such, I tend to be “all talk”, and hours and days can go by without any real contact with the living God, and His will is not something that really touches my daily life. I want more than that! I want to know His love for me. I want to live with a spring in my step because I know I am loved and I know that “all will be well”, both for myself and for those I love.
Silence is the key – it is the way into the inner life of the Trinity. It is the practical way to accept God’s grace as power in daily life. But it is so very hard!
In my day job as an IT manager, we often speak of “best endeavours” when we try to progress projects and keep the organisation functioning. I think this can apply to any meaningful practice of religion. We sincerely make the effort, our best endeavours, and even when we fail, if we persevere, God will bless and make use of our poor attempts.
So when I sit down in the quiet of my room and try to quieten my mind and rest in the silence, I struggle, but God delights in my paltry efforts and will transform my spiritual poverty. I just need to believe in silence and persevere.
“The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He speaks always in eternal silence,
and in silence must it be heard by the soul.” – St. John of the Cross