Sunday, May 11, 2008

Growing Accustomed to Silence


by Thomas Merton

When I speak, it is a demand that others remain silent so I alone may be heard. When I am silent, I hear my true self and reach my soul. When I am silent, I hear with a caring heart. Silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it. If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything because we have said everything before we had anything to say. . . . .

The older I grow, the more at home I am with silence. Some would say it's because I'm running out of my youthful energy. that's fair -- I realize at 42 that I'm not quite the same as I was at 24! Others might say that as I have grown older, I've grown wiser. Not many would say that, mind you, but some would. No, I don't believe that either. Still others might say I've run out of things to say. May it never be!

I think I've become more enamored of silence in recent years because, as Merton's quote indicates above, "Silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it." Indeed, in moments of stillness, I call to mind the words of the Prophet Habakkuk, "But the LORD [is] in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" (2:20). In silence, we "know reality," in that we know God. He is the essence of all reality.

I know -- that sounds too "mystical." I don't have an aversion to the "mystical" because Scripture discusses numerous "mysteries" about the Person, power and presence of God. How can He - in His glory, The Almighty - be anything other than mysterious to us who are the limited, the finite, the depraved? Were it not for the favor of His revelation in Holy Writ, we would not "know" Him -- or at least the basic facts about Him.

Silence, however, makes real to us His Revelation. Not that His Revelation is incomplete -- not at all! His Word reveals ALL we need -- but that's the point -- WE NEED. His revelation is perfect -- our apprehension of His Revelation, and of His very Being, is lacking. It is possible for a believer to walk throughout life, knowing the facts, embracing the Gospel, finding freedom, yet never internalizing the reality and relationship possible with God.

This "Knowledge" is not found in their "many words" of prayer. Too often disciples believe prayer is all about US talking, asking, seeking, knocking, begging, pleading, petitioning, supplicating... No question, those are all elements of Prayer that believers should and must employ at times. But the "many words" often employed in prayer often preclude something deeper, which is the Divine desire of God Himself to be REAL to us. Our words defile that holy moment when God wants nothing more than to be real to us -- to "come in and sup" with us.

Prayer has come to encompass far more to me than "talking to God." As imperative as that is, Prayer is sometimes Silence. Silence before His throne, Silence within His Temple, in my secret place, hidden in Him. Silence there is comfortable, and rest is easy. And there, God doesn't mind if you fall asleep. He even watches over you with a joy eternal, and grants a heavenly peace.

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