Jesus 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
Filed under Prayer, Silence
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.
I recently discovered a fascinating modern mystic. Mama Maggie is a Coptic who works with the poorest of the poor in troubled Egypt. At a leadership conference at Willow Creek Community Church she said, “The hardest task of a leader is to get to know the Almighty and to keep your heart pure.” She asserted that a way to accomplish this is through silence. There “you discover a taste of eternity.” Silence your body to listen to words.
Silence your tongue to listen to thoughts.
Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart beating.
Silence your heart to listen to your spirit.
Silence your spirit to listen to His Spirit.
I am thoroughly convinced that if all of us would the biblical admonition of “be still and know that I am God” we would experience a sense of peace and be far more successful in all of our endeavors.
I have heard the story below in several different forms, but the message is consistent.
A certain young girl entered a convent to prepare herself for a life of celibacy and service. The institution was one of a very strict order. Besides the requirement of the three evangelical counsels, poverty, chastity, and obedience, the order imposed three other regulations, stability, that is, no leave taking from the grounds, severity, the flagellation of the flesh, and silence, not a word dare be uttered. The Mother Superior explained to the new girl that this rule of silence was rigid. However, once every five years just two words were allowed to be spoken. So at the end of the first five years the novice was called in and instructed that she had earned the rare privilege of expressing two words. Now, what would they be? Her answer: “Food rotten!” Five years later the Mother Superior called her in again and offered her the privilege of two more words. What would she say this time? “Beds hard!” The third time she was called in the novice was exasperated and exclaimed: “I quit!” Whereupon the Mother Superior retorted: “Good riddance! All you have ever done since you have been here is to complain!”
Silence as a practice without a purpose is useless. The old story says nothing about the reason or the reward of the discipline of silence, instead it focuses on the physical rule of keeping silent. Silence as a Christian discipline is not merely for the sake of endurance, but it is to open our inner selves to the presence of God. If we are not seeking God in our quiet, then we will only feel the “hard bed.” When we open ourselves to the mystical presence of God, we find peace and comfort in our quiet times. We find renewal and freshness that takes us through our difficulties.
- unexpected dialogue (whoisbert.wordpress.com)