I have been listening to the four meditative Prayer Cycles found at the Abbey of the Arts Podcast. Each prayer session includes a series of readings, prayers, and music for contemplative reflection, as well as a three-minute pause for silence. Initially I tried listening to these at home, but when I tried to be quiet and still, my mind would race. Eventually I discovered that I could remain more attentive during my daily walks; the physical movement helped clear and quiet my mind. And yet, on a recent morning walk, I checked my phone because I thought I had lost my podcast signal. I had forgotten that this was the silent time offered during the session!
Laughing at myself, I then recalled another time when I went to a four-day silent retreat at a spiritual center. On the first morning, I happily greeted, “Good morning!” as a gracious nun passed me in the hallway. She pleasantly smiled – and kept walking – as I clapped my hand over my mouth. And all through the day, I continued to feel unproductive and restless in the silence. I decided to leave the following afternoon, my four days reduced to two.
Aside from the struggle to quiet myself, I have also questioned the purpose of silence, often inwardly asking, “What’s the point?” In those moments when I’m open to freely listen and be fully present to God, I seem to come away empty. When I am “successful” at silence, I often feel as if I have wasted my time – and God’s. For in trying to give God an opportunity to speak, my attempts to inhibit my own thoughts seem to inhibit everything else. Perhaps even a word from God!
But I plan to continue this practice of silence with God. Because (at least for me) maybe the purpose of silence is to have no purpose. The practice of stillness reminds me that I do not always need to achieve, learn, improve, glean, or even hear. I can dwell in a purposeless and pointless time, to rest in holy presence, and let this be enough. My desire to seek perfection or inspiration in the silence actually reveals my insecurity about being beloved – just as I am – by God. My struggle for stillness confirms that my worth will not be found in any prayerful proficiency, but rather, my inadequacy reveals God’s significant love for me.
Keeping silent time with God is becoming a sacred practice of wrestling with myself while resting in God’s love. My faulty attempts at silence invite me to remain with what is, to humbly acknowledge my struggle, to sense God’s loving presence even without my cooperation, to learn to accept my own humanity, and then to increasingly extend that gracious acceptance to all the complexities of life.
After writing the first draft of this post, I went for another walk. In a lovely God-moment, I heard another podcast speaker refer to this verse from 2 Corinthians:
(The Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
(2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NRSVUE)
I laughed again. In holy humor, God brought meaning and purpose to my thoughts on ‘pointless’ silence. God will continue to reveal loving goodness, lessons to glean, and words of wisdom – without needing any help from me.
Bible passage found at https://www.biblegateway.com/
Photo by Karen
The silence of my passing days
is no means to an end.
It comes and sits and smiles and stays
like a welcome trusted friend,
and the world’s cacophony
fades beneath the desert sun
to leave the quiet mystery
everlasting, just begun.
I won’t pretend a revelation,
nor a new spiritual path,
nor a soulful elevation;
silence is a warm kind bath
in which the aches of work and play
are gently, gently washed away.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My goodness, so well expressed! You give me yet additional perspectives on silence. I love the “warm kind bath” image. Thanks again.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You ARE doing it perfectly! Silence is a practice that I adopted many years ago. It’s always evolving, never stagnate. I even went to a Buddhist retreat years ago trying to get it right! So frustrating. Now it’s evolved into a mindfulness practice. In today’s busy world with so many distractions, it’s important to unplug once in awhile, quieting our thoughts, appreciating what’s right under our noses, being fully present. God doesn’t actually “speak” to me during those times, but He shows me his beauty that needs no narrative from me. I took a walk in the woods by myself early yesterday morning, no headphones, no podcast, just the sounds of birds and brooks. I left with a feeling of peace and gratitude and love. Maybe God did speak to me? I’m unsure. But, I do know that that’s the essence of Christ in me that I hope to carry into the days activities, decisions, and just people being human. I’m going to continue this practice as long as I can until my last breath. If nothing else, it helps me show up in the world as a kinder, more compassionate human being.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh MaryEllen, your insights are beautiful, and so beautifully expressed. I like your idea of the “essence of Christ” that we can carry into the day. I will hold this thought when I practice silence on my walk later today. Thank you again!