Thursday, July 29, 2010

Afraid of silence?

As a rule, most people are afraid of silence.  That’s our major barrier to prayer and to depth.  Silence and words are related.  Words that don’t come out of silence probably don’t say much.  They probably are more an unloading than a communicating.

Yet good words can also feed silence.  But even the word of God doesn’t bear a great deal of fruit—it doesn’t really break open the heart—unless it’s tasted and chewed, unless it’s felt and suffered and enjoyed at a level deeper than words.  If you look for the citations of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels, she acts, waits, listens, and asks, and hardly ever “says.”

If I had to advise one thing for spiritual growth, it would be silence.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Jesus, from Matthew 6:6)

I actually (something I could have mentioned in yesterday’s post) do love silence, and being alone. Silence and solitude are almost the one word to me: I have only met one person in whose company I can be truly silent, and as still as if I were alone. But I do truly delight in periods of time spent quite alone, without speaking to another human being.

I suspect that the fear of silence is for most people far worse than the experience itself would be. Were they prepared to give it a fair trial, they might like it. The years of childhood and adolescence for many, if not most, people, hold little silence. I have to admit it wasn’t so for me. I grew up mostly living alone with my mother, a painter and sculptor, who needed time alone with her work. In the 50s people did not worry as they do today about children spending time alone, and I used to go for long, all-day walks along the shore with no companions except the crying gulls, and the God who has never left me, even when I have left him; and I was happy. Only at school, in constant human company, and with constant human demands and expectations, did I learn to be properly unhappy.

God’s word is heard in silence: as Rohr points out, there can be little true hearing without it. But crucially silence is the Holy Spirit’s own language, and only true silence, or the defeat of our own words in contemplative prayer (or in the prayer of tongues), can allow us to hear… And we so need the Holy Spirit, our counsellor and friend (John 14:15-26). Without his guiding, how can we find even the next step. We need silence like we need water, and the thirst for silence is as urgent spiritually as the other is physically. Come, Holy Spirit!

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