The Warmth & Welcome of God’s Silence
Hear, O Lord…
How do you feel about silence?
For a lot of people in the modern age it might often be seen as something cold, or a sign of absence and rejection. Silence is arguably something the modern west, with all it's input and chatter, is naturally at odds with.
But, could this culturally predominant view of silence be quite misrepresentative? I think so, but also know I've found it hard to get past in a society shaped by the removal of quiet.
As it stands, though, I've been learning a lot about silence in the last few months that I'd like to explore with you to help us rediscover what God's silence, specifically, is inviting us into.
Life as of late...
Life as of late hasn't went much according to plan for me: My time in Rome was short-lived due to lack of access to medications and other quality of living factors, and since my return home I've been dealith with bouts of anxiety more than I'm use to.
I can see a lot of this is reflected in my prayer life, as well.
I've never been a spill-your-guts-out type of person when I pray. But recently I've just needed to sigh, that type of sigh an exhausted friend gives when you ask how they've been but you already know the answer isn't the first one you get.
And sometimes that sigh is enough to speak for itself. And then there's the silence.
I once heard someone say, in regard to similar situations, "Sometimes people don’t need answers, they just need to be heard." Sometimes we forget that silence is the sound of listening. Prayer for me, even when just it looks like sitting in resounding silence has rooted me in the reality outside of my perception and experience.
For me the silence that I'm being drawn into in prayer has actually been a source of quiet comfort.
Wants and needs.
Psalm 30 illustrates this well. It opens recounting all the times the Lord aided the Psalmist in his life, commending the people to sing praise in resposne to these works. But then we see something interesting.
Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me: LORD, be thou my helper.
— Psalms 30:10
We hear similar cries all throughout the Psalms and Prophetic texts of the Old Testament: "Arise, Lord...", "Turn your ear...", "Hear, O Lord..." and so on. Over and over again in Sacred Scripture we see that when people cry to the Lord, people long for Him to hear them first and foremost.
So often we can think we want God to be all action, but in reality we are in need of the God who listens.
Not to say that God is inactive, but that sometimes his greatest acts are those that help us process where we're at and where we need to go. The book of Proverbs talks much about using wisdom and reason for direction in life, in order to think through and control our emotions in the craziness of life.
Silence as an invitation.
Other times, silence is an invitation outside of our own world of worries entirely. The poet Rumi sums it up quite well:
Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Often times the silence we may experience in times of prayer may be extended to help draw us out of ourselves, and remember who the Almighty is. I think the Mass is a great example of this.
Holy Mass has moments of silence purposefully set throughout it, whether that be in the offertory, where we present our intentions to the Lord, or before and after we receive the Eucharist, where we contemplate the help from on high we recieve in the humblest of appearances.
The contemplative and penitential nature of silence in the Liturgy serves to remind us all that we are creations of need, we need God in our everyday to gives us strength.
And very often He does, in seemingly simple guises.
This world and the world to come.
As we noted at the top of this post, this world can think silence is cold and cruel. And perhaps when it becomes misused it is.
But the Church, the herald of the world to come, in her maternal wisdom would have us remember that proper silence can be a warm, familiar, open door to rest and security in the care of one in whom all our needs are met.
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.
— Psalms 30:11