Category Archives: Silence

Finding Silence


Thomas-Merton-8-23-17

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.

—-Jean Arp

Silence has many dimensions. It can be a regression and an escape, a loss of self, or it can be presence, awareness, unification, self-discovery. Negative silence blurs and confuses our identity, and we lapse into daydreams or diffuse anxieties. Positive silence pulls us together and makes us realize who we are, who we might be, and the distance between the two. Hence, positive silence implies a choice, and what Paul Tillich called the “courage to be.”

—–Thomas Merton


For over seven years we lived on a very busy city street. During that time I began to believe that silence was just a myth that is found in some far off place. I, like the German sculptor Jean Arp, began to believe that silence was passing into legend. Two and a half years ago I moved into a much quieter, though not silent, neighborhood. Once again, I enjoyed birdsong and could hear the sound of the wind flowing through the trees. It was as though I was rediscovering creation. Soon I realized that my new home has noise as well. Determined not to let my silence be taken away from me, I began to embrace the noise as a pathway to inner silence. That sense of silence acted as a catalyst for a new and stronger spirituality.

Merton refers to the damage caused by negative silence in “Love and Living.” My observation is the more we are surrounded by noise the more likely we are to fall into negative silence. I believe that it is caused by the constant awareness of that background noise that is always present. We become so frustrated by our inability to escape the uproar of humanity and position ourselves at the feet of the creator. We fight so hard to escape the uproar, we never find peace. The path remains elusive to us because we are concentrated on the negative. True silence is out there waiting for us to discover it.

True silence is positive silence, which is August-23-Personal-quotea time and a place of self-discovery. From that place we can be in the presence of God. The prophet Zephaniah says, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests. “I believe that only way to truly be before the Lord is in silence. How can we really hear God above the din of the world unless we clear our minds and focus on Him? The Bible, early Christians, medieval mystics, modern monastics and all other sorts of people in sincere search of God have a common cry -SILENCE!! This cry instructs us to find a quiet place and present ourselves to God. The quietness allows God to calm us, settle us and speak to us, and more importantly, for us to hear God.

No matter what your circumstance, try not to believe that the quiet place is a thing of the past. Take the time to hear your surroundings and listen to God wherever you may be. The throng of urban life doesn’t have to drive us into the negative silence of brooding and moping. Discover the glimpses of silence that God allows you. Try not to be frustrated with the sounds of His creation but to offer them up as part of your journey to your inner self.


PRAYER

 

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


Amen.

 

—-Thomas Merton


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Silent Healing

PoemanAbba Poemen said of Abba Nisterus that he was like the serpent of brass which Moses made for the healing of the people: he possessed all virtue and without speaking, he healed everyone.

—sayings of the desert

There is great power in silent centering on God. We are pressed to be vocal and aggressive – even in prayer. I can well remember when the reason I didn’t want to pray in public was because I lacked the spontaneity of some others I knew. The monk tells us that we see great healing when we silently approach God with the needs of others. There are certain times when just being in the presence of prayer heals.

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Come Away

 

Prayer Retreat

 

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

—Jesus

As we continue our Lenten journey there is no better time to heed the call of Jesus to “come away to a deserted place” than the Lenten season. All of us need these times of solitude to take stock of ourselves. The world in which we live is so hectic and busy that it generates precious little time for soul care. Jesus understood that He and the disciples were going about doing many great things and yet, going to a deserted place was a matter of necessity. Lent is the season of deserted places.

As we steer our lives in the other worldly path of self- denial, we automatically find that it is a less traveled road. Perhaps we can take advantage of that reality and spend some quality time with God. After all, practices of self-denial are designed to make us keenly aware of our need for God. Instead of counting the minutes or seconds of silent prayer relish the time. Conceivably your time of fasting can be used to take a quiet walk and experience God’s creation in a special way. When you give offerings to the needy, pause a moment to take yourself to a quiet place and see the person you are helping through the eyes of their Creator. These can be simple ways of coming away to a quiet place without ever traveling.

The whole concept of Lent is one of coming away to the quiet place of your soul. I hope you are having a Holy Lent and traveling towards a joyous Easter.

As we continue our Lenten journey there is no better time to heed the call of Jesus to “come away to a deserted place” than the Lenten season. All of us need these times of solitude to take stock of ourselves. The world in which we live is so hectic and busy that it generates precious little time for soul care. Jesus understood that He and the disciples were going about doing many great things and yet, going to a deserted place was a matter of necessity. Lent is the season of deserted places.

As we steer our lives in the other worldly path of self- denial, we automatically find that it is a less traveled road. Perhaps we can take advantage of that reality and spend some quality time with God. After all, practices of self-denial are designed to make us keenly aware of our need for God. Instead of counting the minutes or seconds of silent prayer relish the time. Conceivably your time of fasting can be used to take a quiet walk and experience God’s creation in a special way. When you give offerings to the needy, pause a moment to take yourself to a quiet place and see the person you are helping through the eyes of their Creator. These can be simple ways of coming away to a quiet place without ever traveling.

The whole concept of Lent is one of coming away to the quiet place of your soul. I hope you are having a Holy Lent and traveling towards a joyous Easter.

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The Value of Silence

Silence and prayer

If we take as our guide the oldest prayer book, the biblical Psalms, we note two main forms of prayer. One clip_image002is a lament and cry for help. The other is thanksgiving and praise to God. On a more hidden level, there is a third kind of prayer, without demands or explicit expression of praise. In Psalm 131 for instance, there is nothing but quietness and confidence: “I have calmed and quieted my soul … hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.”

At times prayer becomes silent. Peaceful communion with God can do without words. “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.” Like the satisfied child who has stopped crying and is in its mother’s arms, so can “my soul be with me” in the presence of God. Prayer then needs no words, maybe not even thoughts.

How is it possible to reach inner silence? Sometimes we are apparently silent, and yet we have great discussions within, struggling with imaginary partners or with ourselves. Calming our souls requires a kind of simplicity: “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” Silence means recognizing that my worries can’t do much. Silence means leaving to God what is beyond my reach and capacity. A moment of silence, even very short, is like a holy stop, a sabbatical rest, a truce of worries.

The turmoil of our thoughts can be compared to the storm that struck the disciples’ boat on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus was sleeping. Like them, we may be helpless, full of anxiety, and incapable of calming ourselves. But Christ is able to come to our help as well. As he rebuked the wind and the sea and “there was a great calm”, he can also quiet our heart when it is agitated by fears and worries (Mark 4).

Remaining silent, we trust and hope in God. One psalm suggests that silence is even a form of praise. We are used to reading at the beginning of Psalm 65: “Praise is due to you, O God”. This translation follows the Greek text, but actually the Hebrew text printed in most Bibles reads: “Silence is praise to you, O God”. When words and thoughts come to an end, God is praised in silent wonder and admiration.

The Word of God: thunder and silence

At Sinai, God spoke to Moses and the Israelites. Thunder and lightning and an ever-louder sound of a trumpet preceded and accompanied the Word of God (Exodus 19). Centuries later, the prophet Elijah returned to the same mountain of God. There he experienced storm and earthquake and fire as his ancestors did, and he was ready to listen to God speaking in the thunder. But the Lord was not in any of the familiar mighty phenomena. When all the noise was over, Elijah heard “a sound of sheer silence”, and God spoke to him (1 Kings 19).

Does God speak with a loud voice or in a breath of silence? Should we take as example the people gathered at Sinai or the prophet Elijah? This might be a wrong alternative. The terrifying phenomena related to the gift of the Ten Commandments emphasize how serious these are. Keeping or rejecting them is a question of life or death. Seeing a child running straight under a car, one is right to shout as loud as possible. In analogous situations prophets speak the word of God so that it makes our ears ring.

Loud words certainly make themselves heard; they are impressive. But we also know that they hardly touch the hearts. They are resisted rather than welcomed. Elijah’s experience shows that God does not want to impress, but to be understood and accepted. God chose “a sound of sheer silence” in order to speak. This is a paradox:

God is silent and yet speaking

When God’s word becomes “a sound of sheer silence”, it is more efficient than ever to change our hearts. The heavy storm on Mount Sinai was splitting rocks, but God’s silent word is able to break open human hearts of stone. For Elijah himself the sudden silence was probably more fearsome than the storm and thunder. The loud and mighty manifestations of God were somehow familiar to him. God’s silence is disconcerting, so very different from all Elijah knew before.

Silence makes us ready for a new meeting with God. In silence, God’s word can reach the hidden corners of our hearts. In silence, it proves to be “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit” (Hebrews 4:12). In silence, we stop hiding before God, and the light of Christ can reach and heal and transform even what we are ashamed of.

Silence and love

Christ says: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We need silence in order to welcome these words and put them into practice. When we are agitated and restless, we have so many arguments and reasons not to forgive and not to love too easily. But when we “have calmed and quieted our soul”, these reasons turn out to be quite insignificant. Maybe we sometimes avoid silence, preferring whatever noise, words or distraction, because inner peace is a risky thing: it makes us empty and poor, disintegrates bitterness and leads us to the gift of ourselves. Silent and poor, our hearts are overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, filled with an unconditional love. Silence is a humble yet secure path to loving.

Note:This post was copied from the Taize community website with some editing.

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Prayer for Silence

silence centeringJesus our peace, if our lips keep silence, our heart listens to you and also speaks to you. And you say to each one of us: surrender yourself in all simplicity to the life of the Holy Spirit; and with that surrender we may know you in a superlative way. Lord help me to observe a sacred silence. AMEN

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On Silence

Silent Monk

Catherine of Siena describes religious life as a ship “ready to receive souls who want to race on to perfection and to bring them to the port of salvation. The captain of this ship is the Holy Spirit, who lacks nothing. His religious subjects who violate his orders can hurt only themselves, never this ship.” This goes not only for the ship of religious life, but also for the Church. The ship can never be sunk, though it can be steered into hurricanes. The key is silence.

First, without silence you can’t hear the captain’s orders. Silence is not only a lack of external noise, but internal listening. Without it crucial directions can be missed. The Holy Spirit is not usually a yeller.

Secondly, you need to hear your shipmates. They have specific duties that cannot be explained in the midst of a storm. They may need your help with one of their tasks or they may need to get by you to reach their station. At times, it is through your shipmates that you hear the orders of the captain.

Thirdly, you need to hear your ship. The external structures of the ship require attention and the creaks of the ship communicate to the sailor. Catherine describes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as ropes that hold up the sails of the ship. Terrible consequences come of a frayed rope in the midst of a hurricane…

In this extended metaphor, silence is correctly seen as a positive aspect of the religious life and of the Christian life in general. It not only provides the space to listen to God, but it is a weapon of the Christian life. As a pious woman wrote: “Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. The sword of silence will cut off everything that would like to cling to the soul.” Storms are not the only danger to a ship, but sea serpents roam the waters too.

We must be prepared to listen past the winds of the world, struggle against the noise of our hearts, and fight the demons of the depths. Silence is the weapon with which we fight the world, concupiscence and demons. It is in the silence of the cross that the ship sails into safe harbor.

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Silence and Solitude

Thomas Merton is a sage of the modern contemplative and mystic world. He offers us some sound guidance for our spiritual pathways. He addresses silence and solitude and their impact on our development as whole human beings.

The world of men has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude which is necessary, to some extent, for Mertonthe fullness of human living. Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. When that inner voice is not heard, when man cannot attain to the spiritual peace that comes from being perfectly at one with his own true self, his life is always miserable and exhausting. For he cannot go on happily for long unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual life which are hidden in the depths of his own soul. If man is constantly exiled from his own home, locked out of his own spiritual solitude, he ceases to be a true person. He no longer lives as a man. He becomes a kind of automaton, living without joy because he has lost his spontaneity. He is no longer moved from within, but only from outside himself.

——Thomas Merton

The joy of silence and the peace of solitude are missing links in American society. Twenty first century America is searching for its soul and looking in all the wrong places. Merton calls for us to be in silence and solitude so that we might hear the inner voice. There are few among us that would not admit that all of God’s creatures are looking for spiritual peace. Such a peace is very illusive in our society. We find the ever increasing number of people who identify as spiritual but not religious. That very label is a deep interior cry for union with our inner selves. Somehow they have failed to hear the inner voice and therefore, suffer from the agony of separation from the springs of spiritual life that wait them.

Merton acknowledges the impossibility of living as a hermit as the answer for the bulk of society. He does, however, strongly urge us to discover our inner selves. He calls our inner self our “home,” and implies that we are locking ourselves out of our own homes. In this act of exile, we cease to be a true person and become some kind of automated robot that merely functions from day to day.

Let us begin today to heed the advice of this modern day sage, and seek silence and solitude whenever and wherever it presents itself.

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A Whole Philosophy of Life

Contemplating Wadi Musa

Abba Isidore of Pelusia said, ‘To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole philosophy of life.’

—–Abba Isidore of the Desert

The age old saying of our actions speaking louder than our words is seen here in the words of the Abba. . We hear it in the words of Jesus, Buddha and all s world religions. Yet it is still the most difficult task that is faced by anyone desiring to follow the path of Jesus.

Words are easy, cheap, and abundant; actions are difficult, for they require discipline, time, and selflessness. Those virtues are ones that we develop over a lifetime of prayer and study. We are geared toward having answers and not actions. There are few among us who lack the cognitive knowledge of our obligation to our fellow man, but many who just give lip service only to giving and sacrificing for the sake of others.

Christians are called to know and do. We know the commands of God and we have hidden them in our hearts, but that is not the end of the story. Perhaps we even testify to the importance of refraining from gossip and slander, visiting the prisoner, clothing the naked, and feeding the stranger, but we utterly fail at putting action to our words. This dilemma existed in the church of 1600 years ago and it exists today. Perhaps, as the advice of the Abba tells us, we can learn from silence and be jolted into action-action that will become a whole philosophy of life.

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Discovering the Desert of My Soul

Candle PrayerI don’t exactly know why, but a few years ago I felt a real spiritual unction to study Christian Mysticism. My first thought was to look at the experiences of the monks of the desert. These Desert Fathers fled to the parched lands of Egypt to escape the “one size fits all” Christianity of Constantine’s Empire. The Abbas of the desert wanted to experience God as they thought He wanted to be experienced. That experience would not come as a result of legislated belief at the point of the sword of a Roman Legion. That kind of belief was no belief at all, for such a faith had to be discovered within their own souls. They could experience God in a mysterious way in their desert monasteries, and then direct others by sharing these experiences. God is a mystery, and He is best seen in a mystical way. In the desert they would find the Spirit that had apparently left the organized church, and indeed, they did. They were the first mystics.

 Many factors prohibited this mystical movement from being the major driving force of the church. All throughout history there have been famous mystics. Notable ones are, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Ignatius of Loyola. I wanted to learn as much from them as I could, but in the middle of that experience something happened to my own way of thinking. Suddenly, the idea of certainty of belief was replaced with a deep, abiding appreciation for the mysterious nature of God. After all belief in God is mystery, not certainty, and can best be understood through the eyes of the mystic.

 I don’t claim to be a Christian mystic at the level of the people I have mentioned, but I do contend that thinking as a mystic can open new panoramas of faith. These panoramas can lead to a much broader view of the work of God, and a more intimate involvement with Him. Things like meditation, Lectio Divina, silence, and icons have taken on a new meaning in my life. They have become invitations to spiritual portals that I never knew existed.

Major realities I discovered by embracing Christian Mysticism:

  • God does live within me
  • God really speaks to me (not audibly)
  • God protects me at all times
  • God gives me strength beyond my ability
  • God owes me nothing
  • Evil wins sometime
  • Suffering is a spiritual discipline
  • Scripture is the Word of God and it still lives
  • Silence is the loudest prayer
  • Silence is a portal to God
  • There is more than one right answer

My journey into mysticism has not so much brought me closer to God, as it has helped me to understand how far I have to go. Jubilantly, I can say that I am not alone on the journey. He is with me! The mystical, monastic journey brought me to the desert of my soul, and there I found the face of God. I continue to travel through that desert with the traveling companions I have discovered. Thanks for reading this story and the other stories that I have written about these mystics who have become my friends.

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