Silence: Irreplaceable for Discerning


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.

Try This

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.

How To Discern If We Are Uncomfortable with Silence

métis 56A second obstacle to interior listening is a restlessness or discomfort with silence or deeper reflection.

If someone isn’t used to a lot of silence or more contemplative forms of prayer, some restlessness or discomort with silence is not truly an obstacle at all, but simply something to become used to. Starting out small—five or ten minutes of quiet prayer—is manageable for many people on a daily basis. (If five minutes seems unbearable, try starting with just two minutes—there are some good two-minute meditation books available. God is not limited by time. He can do in one second what would take us a century…or would simply be impossible for us to do on our own.)

Often, inner restlessness or an inability to sit still can arise because we are currently suffering a profound loss or grief; the pain that we feel surfaces every time we start to quiet down, so we shy away from silence. This is a time to be gentle with ourselves. It’s good if we can still take short times of silence or quiet prayer, acknowledge the pain long enough to be aware of it and to offer it to the Lord, but then move on to another form of prayer or some other activity that soothes us. For example, instead of sitting still in Eucharistic adoration, take a prayer walk and pray the Rosary, or repeat a phrase from Scripture that is meaningful while we walk. When we are too restless to sit still, we can find other ways to pray and listen to God, such as journaling, art-journaling, listening to music or a song that reminds us of God’s love for us, etc. Eventually, our inner restlessness will pass and we can return to quiet prayer.

If we struggle regularly with an inner restlessness that makes silence or quiet prayer times uncomfortable, this could mean we are simply uncomfortable with the thoughts and feelings that arise when we are quiet. If quiet prayer and reflection haven’t been part of our lives, the cacophony of thoughts and feelings can truly become overwhelming. If this is the case, beginning slow—with even two minutes of reflection—is helpful. A structured method for praying—such as lectio divina, centering prayer, or Eucharistic adoration—can also be useful because it gives us a place to focus in the quiet. (Some resources are listed below.) If thoughts or feelings arise that are deeply troublesome, speaking to a counselor or trusted mentor about them can help us to sort through them.

Quiet, reflective prayer times are important for the deep listening that discernment requires, but God works with us individually, where we are, responding our specific needs and desires right now. Total silence can be helpful but is not always necessary (or even possible). Freedom from distractions so that we can listen deeply to the Lord is what we are looking for. Sometimes soothing music, or a prayerful practice—such as journaling or a form of art—can be more helpful than silence in leading us into a spirit of prayer.

Please Reflect & Share:

  • Where do you stand with silence today?
  •  What has helped you enter the silence of prayer when you have struggled with it?

Your sharing here (or anonymously by emailing me, and I will post your response) may be enormously helpful to another discerner.