Do you enjoy silence? Is it scary? Is it enticing? Do you run towards it, or away from it? What part does it play in a healthy prayer life?
When alone I walk around the house with a podcast broadcasting from the phone in my pocket. Car journeys are opportunities to catch up with podcasts. The shower is one of my favourite places for listening to podcasts thanks to the shower-proof phone protector my wife gave me and the shower-proof Bluetooth speaker my daughter gave me.
Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts. A veritable sound-storm of podcasting surrounds my solitude. But is this healthy?
Some of my podcasting obsession is reasonable. But I must admit that occasionally it’s a way of filling the silence when it wants to speak to my soul. This came home to me yesterday.
I’ve been visiting my parents to help with some errands. Here in rural Kent, I don’t have access to my usual broadband. A video upload was needed and I used my phone as a mobile hotspot. The file was big. Really big. The phone remained tethered to the laptop for an entire morning.
I walked around the house, I pruned a pear tree, deadheaded rose bushes, gathered leaves, picked up fallen branches and put them on the bonfire pile. In silence. Wonderful!
I submitted myself to the silence more willingly than usual. The reason was the fact that the previous day I read an article in the November edition of Christianity Today magasine. Sandra McCraken wrote on, “Our Silence, Music to His Ears”. In her article, she focussed on Psalm 65.1.
She said, “Many translations and paraphrases of Psalm 65:1 reference praise with an emphasis on silence. Duke Bible scholar Ellen Davis once translated it as, “To you, O Lord, silence is praise.””
Eugene Peterson translated the verse thus: “Silence is praise to you, Zion-dwelling God, And also obedience. You hear the prayer in it all.” (MESSAGE)
McCraken goes on to say,
“In silence, prayer comes up as word-less petitions and attentive expectation. In this, we affirm that prayer is a two-way conversation. Silence is the waiting posture that helps us to be poised to hear God’s voice.”
What is it about silence that open’s our ears to God’s voice? Silence creates the conditions for the decluttering of our minds. Robin Daniels in “The Virgin Eye” says, “Silence is not the absence of sound. Rather, sound is the absence of silence. Silence is primary.”
Perhaps he is right. We believe God wants a relationship with us. He waits for us to be silent so that we can connect. Until the noise of life is tamed we’re in no position to listen to the one who gave us life. In this sense silence is primary. It is necessary for us to be able to receive.
Silence and Speech
Daniels goes on to suggest that, “if we have learned to be silent before the Word, we shall also balance our silence and our speech during the day.” Silence is not the goal. Silence is a means to hearing God’s Word and carrying it with us throughout the day. Silence is not passive, nor an opening to nothingness. Silence is active and focussed.
Silence is a conduit to living a life of substance. Daniels again, “If we do not keep attuning to silence, we lose gravitas, we become lightweight.” How do we access the promised spiritually enriching sound of silence?
Beginning and End
I end with some simple suggestions for making the most of the spiritual discipline of silence:
- Quality, not quantity: One minute of silence regularly enjoyed is better than sporadic longer periods of silence.
- Focus on the Word: One verse, read, meditated on, prayed over in silence will nourish the soul.
- Begin each prayer time with a moment of silence. Don’t rush into your words.
- End each prayer time with a moment of silence. Don’t rush off into your next task.
Silence was the experience of many in Bible times. Elijah, Moses and David come to mind, as well as Jesus himself (Luke 5.16). They benefitted from the quiet. Silence is never expected to be the substance of our lives, but it must be a significant part.
Psalm 62 has a similar sentiment to Psalm 65: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” (Psalms 62:1 NRSV)
What can you do to surface opportunities for silence to do its work?
Let me know what your experience is with this. What difficulties did you encounter? What stood out to you? What helped you? If you were encouraging someone else to practice this prayer technique, what would you emphasise to them? have I missed anything important regarding the spiritual discipline of silence?
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
I hope you have a wonderful week of quality quiet times.
God bless, Malcolm