allows a person to speak with God,
to hear God, and to receive from God;
in holy silence the soul withdraws into itself,
comes to know itself better,
and achieves greater union with God.
The person will be fascinated by God,
enter into intimate conversation with God,
and pray with Saint Augustine:
“That I may know myself, that I may know thee.”
– Bl. James Alberione
When is the last time that you were surrounded by silence?
When I first visited the convent, I was told about “Grand Silence,” which was the sisters’ daily practice of not talking (except for an absolute emergency) from night prayers until breakfast the next morning. As a postulant (sister-in-training), I would be required to keep the Grand Silence too. The first night I was a bit uneasy–I worried that I’d forget and start talking to someone, and I wasn’t sure what the penalty would be! I also wondered how dire “an absolute emergency” would have to be to justify speaking a few words.
Grand Silence is a monastic tradition which recognizes how valuable silence is for growing in a spirit of recollection and prayer, for knowing oneself, for entering into a deeper communion with God.
Because we Daughters of Saint Paul are an active apostolic community, we don’t keep “Grand Silence” as strictly as a contemplative monastery, but we do keep a spirit of silence in the convent at night and in the early morning, a silence that is rarely broken. I find it invaluable for allowing me to turn my focus once again inward, to my relationship with God, and to mull over how I spent the day. Silence is one of the things I miss the most when I’m traveling and not staying at a convent.
The “noisiness” of our lives can distract us from the deeper purpose of our lives: to do God’s will. Today, many of us live with almost constant noise of some kind or other. Whether it’s our smartphone’s frequent ping calling our attention, the roar of traffic, the mechanical whir of the refrigerator, favorite music or talk radio coming through our tiny earbuds, or chatting with friends or family, silence has become a rare, precious commodity.
I treasure the moments that I take a walk in a park where I can really focus on the birdsongs and the whisper of the wind in the trees, and just take in the silence. Making time for silence in our lives is vital to deepening our relationship with God. Silence is not just passive: I often find that God speaks to me in silence, without words.
In his short message for World Communication Day in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI wrote the best “call to silence” I have ever read. I encourage you to read the whole message—it’s just a little over two pages long—and it will say better than I ever could why making silence part of your daily or weekly routine is irreplaceable in your life as a human being, as a believer, as a discerner.
For us who are discerning God’s will and seeking to listen to God’s call in our daily life, making time for silence is key. Silence helps us:
- come to know ourselves
- recognize what in our lives is important
- hear God and enter into fuller communion with God
- enter more deeply into our relationships with others
- listen compassionately to others
- open ourselves to the Truth
- contemplate God’s invitations and presence in the world
- become aware of what we really want to communicate….
If you are able to take some silent time, add to this list afterwards. How does silence help you to become more yourself, and closer to others and to God? You may not notice much of a difference at first, but if you develop a “silence habit,” you may find yourself more self-aware, focused, happier, and more “in tune with” God through your day.
Make time for real silence in your life this week. Go for a long walk in the country, visit a quiet church, go into your room and close the door and do something quiet, or find another way to spend time in silence.
2 thoughts on “Silence: Irreplaceable for Discerning”
Hi Sister! I love your thoughts on praying in silence. However, I was wondering if you had any tips on how to BE silent? Whenever I try to meditate on a reading in silence, or go for a walk, or spend some quiet time in my room to pray, I find my mind instantly wandering to other things. How can I focus quieting my mind, not just my environment?
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Thanks for visiting the blog and for your thoughtful question, which I somehow missed. (I’m updating my notifications so that hopefully I won’t miss a comment again.)
Here (https://coauthoryourlifewithgod.com/2015/09/04/how-to-discern-if-we-are-uncomfortable-with-silence/) I talk a little about quieting our minds when we are uncomfortable with silence.
Here are a couple of things I did when I first tried to pray silently, and still go back to when I’m especially distracted:
1) Start small. Try to focus your attention for just a few minutes–2 to 5 minutes. When your mind wanders (and this happens to all of us!), as soon as you realize it, bring your attention back to what you’re meditating on. Try 5 minutes a day! After you feel that you are able to focus for about half of that time, increase it to 10 minutes, and so on. Many people pray silently or meditate on the Word of God between 20-30 minutes a day.
2) What time are you choosing to pray? Prayer–especially contemplative prayer–is hard work, so it’s a good idea to find a fairly consistent time when we are quite alert, but not imminently distracted about our responsibilities. This is why early (or first thing) in the morning is a good time to pray for many people; others are able to pray best in the evening–after supper or before bed.
3) If you’re meditating on a reading, choose just one sentence or phrase that “resonates” with you and re-read it slowly several times. What comes to mind as you re-read it? What about this phrase stands out for you? Even if no thoughts or insight arrives, savor the sentence or phrase. Simply spending time with the Word of God and allowing it to enter deep within us can be deep prayer and transformative.
4) Look at the sources or “fonts” of your prayer. If you’re struggling to “quiet” your mind, choose a source that makes it easier. For example, it took me several years to learn how to pray with the letters of Saint Paul, while praying with the Gospels–especially with the stories of Jesus healing people–was much easier for me to enter into. Needless to say, I used to pray mostly with the Gospels! Pick a book of the Bible–and the Gospels are ideal–that you can read more easily. Or pick a spiritual writer that engages you, whom you really like to read, for when you feel especially distracted.
5) Talk to God about what you read or are trying to pray with–a spontaneous conversation. If you’re by yourself, you can even talk out loud! Make sure you give God space to respond to you. If you really find it impossible to concentrate, talk to God about what’s on your mind. Once again, after you have opened your heart to the Lord, make sure you take time to listen to his response. You may not “hear” any words or “feel” anything, but even making an act of faith that God is present by listening for him will bear fruit in your day.
6) Choose an environment that enhances your ability to concentrate. For example, try praying in a quiet chapel. If you’re praying in your room, create a simple prayer-corner with a religious image, statue or crucifix, a prayer book, a Bible, and a comfortable chair. If you like to pray outside, pick a beautiful but quiet place. Wherever you choose to pray quietly, use the environment to quiet your mind: focus on the religious image in your room; offer your heart to the Lord as the candle that is burning in the chapel sanctuary; etc.
It’s wonderful to pray amid the bustle of our day–a ride on the subway, when we’re out for a walk or waiting in line at the grocery store. But we also need quiet times when we can have “quality” conversations with God. The quiet in our prayer is important because it helps us develop the habit of listening for God.
If we feel empty during the quiet times in our prayer, that’s okay. It simply means that we have space for God to fill. Praying in and with our emptiness can be uncomfortable, but it can also increase our reliance and trust in God.
I hope this is helpful! I’ll post this up on the blog soon.