Thursday, February 14, 2013

Silence and the Spiritual Life

What is the prayer of silence? It can be as simple, says a Salesian priest, in a recent issue of Bible & Life, as what occurred to him while visiting the birthplace of St. Francis de Sales: being awe-struck by the beauty of the alps and the snow-capped mountains. Because of this experience he is not surprised at the Saint's dispositions for the spiritual life. We are very much affected, he says, by our environment.

We are often brought to silence, he says, when we find that no words can adequately give voice to the beauties of creation. One of highest manifestations of the beauty of creation is humanity, he goes on to say. The actions of people often surprise him by how well they express the love and beauty at the core of existence. This keeps him motivated, he says, and in the throes of hell-like problems helps him to respond with a hearty laugh. And when seeing the happiness of another human being, spontaneously joyful from life itself, he also feels energized by the same joyful presence. 

This experience is similar, he says, to our deepening relationship of love with God. When our love of God deepens and grows, the words we use in prayer decrease. Within silence, having put aside our worldly concerns, we are content to be in his presence, alone, just as our predecessors in the faith did before us, discovering that the best response to God's love is often a silent listening. Though praying fluently and freely is thought to be a sign of one who prays well, and that praying by using different prayers is a sign of a prayerful person, this is a misunderstanding of prayer. Without silence, he says, as the background for our prayer life, our words will be an obstacle to true prayer.

When we reflect on the love of God for us, the thoughts themselves are prayer. To reflect on this and the graces received, our whole being becomes a silent, prayerful response.

He recalls several New Testament accounts of this kind of silent prayer. Mary Magdalena, according to the Gospel writers, had seven devils which were driven out by Jesus.  She was not the kind of person that would have friends, and she must have suffered much with her condition. But meeting Jesus her whole life changed; she became a new person. In a moment, her pain and grief disappeared, replaced by joy. The only thing that interested her now was to be with Jesus, hear his words, and to live them.

Other examples were St. Joseph and Mary. And though Joseph obviously was a great influence, along with Mary, in the life of Jesus, a great deal of silence surrounds him in the Scriptures.  He was clearly a person whose whole life was a life of silence in obedience. Like Mary, there were many things he did not understand, but he obeyed: marrying Mary, seeking refuge in Egypt, and returning to Israel. Mary's silence is referred to as: "[she] treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart."

When resting in silence, the foundation of all prayer, we are able to hear the sounds coming  to us from all sides: the sounds of nature, our brothers' pleas, the sounds from God, and the sounds coming from inside ourselves. From silence comes our spiritual life. Within this silence--as scripture counsels "Be still and know that I am God"--we come in contact with God. And in this silence, if sufficiently still, dying to all we believe ourselves to be, we are brought to a grateful appreciation of the life we have been given, and to an all-encompassing love for the source of that life.

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