By Bethany Bell
“...And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” - 1 Kings 19:11-13
We end the week of prayer talking about silence. Like solitude, it isn’t something I am used to these days. But I think because of the lack of silence in my life I appreciate and understand it’s value even more. But man, it is so hard to find! In our Christian life, silence is important to practice both externally and internally. But how many times have I sat down to pray, found a quiet secluded location only to be bombarded by my mind. My interior is 1000 times noisier than my exterior most days. So how can we quiet both our exterior and interior?
I was reading a book a while back and it said something along the lines that we are quietophobic or noiseoholics. I remember reading these words and thinking YES! Too quickly do we fill the silence with noise. Why? What is in the silence that we don’t want to hear? If you say that nothing is in the silence then I refer you to the above quote from 1 Kings. The world fills our ears with wind, earthquakes and fire. The Lord’s voice cannot be heard in them! He is heard in the quiet conversation taking place between a husband and wife, a gentle note from a dear friend, and in the silence of our innermost place. Quieting our exterior is the first step in being able to hear God’s voice easier. I have noticed that the more silent my world becomes the more I crave silence. I can hear my world so much more vibrantly when I practice silence. I was able to attend a silent retreat for the first time last spring at the St. John’s Community in Illinois. I’ll admit when I first signed up I was filled with fear! How could I be silent for 3 days? My time there was self emptying and awe inspiring. And thanks to God’s grace, I found the silence easy to fall into after the first day. By the end of the retreat I was so intune with hearing the birds sing, the rustling of the wind, the opening and closing of doors, shuffling of feet and to my delight found God in all of it. Friends, experiencing that kind of silence opened my heart to a world I didn’t know existed. The created noise and distractions of the world keep us from hearing God’s voice through His created world. I encourage you to turn off your radio when driving alone, to not put those earbuds in when you go for a run, to shut off the T.V. when no one is watching, and do not pick up your cell phone when you are waiting. Practice silencing your world device by device. Empty yourself from the noise so you can be filled with God’s voice! It will be difficult at first but ask for help from Him and He will aid you! And quieting your exterior will only help you when the time comes to quiet your interior.
Our Lady of Knock - Our Lady of Silence
In Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise he writes “in the cell, or during prayer, the big noises of the soul can be unleashed. Mental games, thoughts, and emotions are happy to come distract us from prayer.” Ah, how true this is. Exterior silence is a lot of small acts of the will. You choose to turn off the TV, you choose to not listen to music. Interior silence is much different. You have to teach yourself how to be silent. How do we practice this interior silence? St. Peter Julian Eymard suggests, “Be natural in your meditation. Use up your own stock of piety and love before resorting to books. Remember that our good Master prefers the poverty of our heart to the most sublime thoughts borrowed from others. You can be sure that our Lord wants our heart and not that of someone else.” While reading Scripture is a beautiful way to start prayer it shouldn’t be our ending. It should be a springboard into silence with God. If we are reading or doing vocal prayer we do not leave space for God’s response. We do not want to become theologians during prayer and spend more time studying the Bible then listening to what the Word has to tell us. Again silence is needed to hear God’s response. St. Thérèse of Lisieux gives us great advice when our distracted thoughts are of people, she tells us, “I have many distractions, but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people, the thought of whom is diverting my attention. In this way, they reap the benefit of my distractions.” How beautiful that God can turn even our distractions into prayer! Remember interior silence is difficult and not something we can do without help. Call on the Holy Spirit to aid you in your prayer, practice exterior silence to help foster interior silence. And take heart because according to St. Louis de Montfort, “He who fights even the smallest distractions faithfully when he says even the very smallest prayer, will also be faithful in great things.”
I pray that this week focusing on prayer has brought you peace and joy during your quiet moments with Christ. I hope that you will take all of this in your heart and ponder it and let the Lord work in you the way He needs to. Week two of Advent we will be focusing on Fasting and Abstinence. Remember to be like Mary, the Magi and St. Simeon and open your heart to the joyful anticipation of the infant Christ.
"In this oasis of quiet, before the wonderful spectacle of nature, one easily experiences how profitable silence is, a good that today is ever more rare... In reality, only in silence does man succeed in hearing in the depth of his conscience the voice of God, which really makes him free."
- Pope St. John Paul II