FINDING SILENCE IN A NOISY WORLD
By SR. BRIGIT-CAROL AND DIANE ROSE
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
In our Western culture, we have been conditioned to be comfortable with noise and crowds. Actually, we are addicted to noise. We’ve got to have it! Silence often makes us uncomfortable, and it is certainly not something our society values. Silence interferes with the distractions of life, which anesthetizes us from the feeling that our lives are still empty. Noise keeps us concentrated on something else—anything else!
At the same time, we tend to work to fill the space around us. We fear being alone. We fear solitude. It is this fear that reveals a desperate insecurity within us. However, our attempts to fill our lives with company will never satisfy the true hunger of the heart—community with God. I do not suggest that we do not need relationships with other people. On the contrary, we need more true relationships. However, time alone in silence and solitude is necessary if we are to develop a true friendship with God.
Silence is the practice of quieting every voice, including our own inner and outer voices. It also means being still so that we can hear the Voice that searches our hearts and minds. We must quiet our own hearts and mouths if we are to be able to listen to the voice of God.
Although some of these voices are important for us to hear, if we are to remain well balanced, we must develop habits of being unavailable to the voices all around us so that we can learn to hear the Divine Voice. Times of silence and solitude are complimentary disciplines to fellowship. It is in silence and solitude that we learn to love God and love others without the distraction of looking at some of the behaviors of others that tend to drive us nuts. Balance in life requires balance between silence, solitude and fellowship.
As Christians, our lives are based on both the teachings and the actions of Jesus Christ. Jesus often drew aside in solitude and silence for prayer. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus often withdrew by himself to spend time in prayer – sometimes all night. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5: 16
What did Jesus do in those long hours of solitude with his Father? I doubt that he chattered all night, but he probably laid open his heart as he rested in the loving arms of God, contemplating the love relationship and communion he shared with God.
We are also in a love relationship with God. One way to honor that love relationship and at the same time to quiet the noise both without and within is to spend time each day in silence and solitude. Contemplative prayer (also called still prayer, centering prayer or meditation) is one way to do that. Even spending a short 10 minutes a day in silence allows us to open ourselves to God’s loving presence in a deeper way in our lives. As we sit in silence we focus on loving God and being loved by God. We become recharged with God’s presence and as that happens, every dimension of our lives becomes more attuned to God’s grace and love for others and for ourselves.
Contemplative Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer, but it is a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Him. It is based on the wisdom saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
“…But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6
Some practical suggestions for contemplative prayer are to use a comfortable, straight back chair, with your feet on the floor and your hands sitting comfortably in your lap. Your eyes may be closed, or partly closed. In an effort to calm your mind as thoughts come, choose a word to say silently as you let the thoughts go. The word can be short, such as Jesus, God, peace or love. Or you may choose to use some, or all, of the Jesus Prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This word or phrase also signals your consent to the presence and action of God in you. It is recommended that you pray for 20 minutes once or twice a day, but start where you can. As your thoughts come, gently let them go and retyurn to your chosen word or phrase.
Contemplative prayer is not a technique, but a way of cultivating a deeper relationship with God. It is simply resting in God beyond thoughts, words, and emotions.
Sometimes the prayer time will be rewarding and sometimes it will be a struggle to be still and quiet. Persevere. Thomas Keating says the only thing that we can do wrong in contemplative prayer is to leave. He also says, “The principal fruits of centering prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period.”
It can be helpful to join a prayer group. There, you will find others who are seeking to be intentional in the practice of contemplative prayer. You will also find encouragement from those who have experience with the practice.
There is a weekly Contemplative Prayer Group that meets at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest on Tuesday from 4 to 5 p.m. Time is spent learning from a spiritual teacher using their books or videos. Reflections are shared from the group during this time. Twenty minutes are spent in silent prayer. The time is closed with the group praying The Lord’s Prayer together. This group offers an opportunity to support and share the spiritual journey. All are welcome.
For your personal study, you may want to explore some of these books:
Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault
Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton
Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Sister Brigit-Carol and Diane Rose lead a contemplative prayer group on Tuesdays at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest