“God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts”, St Augustine tells us. At the age of ten my grandmother died and I had a profound experience of her life and death. We had a very close relationship. She taught me many things, most of all she taught me the art of stillness. She taught me how to pray without words – by simply being still. Sitting serenely in her armchair she would practice times of silence as I watched her pray. The Bible tells us “be still and know that I am God”.
I have imitated her practice all through my life and developed a practice of contemplation over the past 50 years. Contemplation simply means resting in the Lord – just like my grandmother did. This practice led me to religious life, a life of prayer and stillness. Profound prayer is simply sitting there and letting God pray in us. It means adopting a loving gaze towards God and receiving His loving gaze too.
Prayer is a gift of God. We do not have to use words. We can go from many words to few words, to one word to silence. We place ourselves in God’s hands and we rest. Prayer without words is older than Christianity and is a rich part of the Christian life. It transcends all religious traditions. It leads us to the depths of ourselves where we find God. Our search for God who hides Himself in mystery within us is a life-long search.
Silence reveals God to us. If we journey in silence to the core of our hearts we will find ourselves and God. It is a journey inward. All we need to guide us is to be found in our own hearts. In the depths of our hearts are goodness, truth and love. The source of all life is within. St Augustine wrote: “Late have I loved You, beauty ever old yet ever new, late have I loved you. You were within me, but I was outside. You were with me, but I was not with You”. We need to “be with God”. He calls us to return to our hearts and seek Him within. “Go into your room, shut the door and pray to your Father in secret”. Jesus stands knocking at the door of our hearts. He likens our search for God to a hidden treasure. Matt 13 : 44 – 46.
The spiritual journey begins in our own hearts. Each person’s journey is different. We each find our treasure. In the silence is the presence of God. The silence has a richness. It pervades us. The silence outside meets the inner silence and at its heart is stillness, peace and God. “For God alone, my soul waits in silence” is the cry of the Psalmist, Psalm 62.
Jesus loved to spend time alone – early in the morning he would take himself off to a quiet place, a mountain, a lake, spending whole nights in prayer. When we pray we need not use words. Be attentive to your breath. Let God pray in you. In the story of Martha and Mary, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him, gazing on him in total love.
Jesus reveals God to us as a loving, forgiving, compassionate God, one who cares for us, who gives us rest and brings peace to our restless hearts. We can be at home with God. Simply lift up your heart in a gaze of love. Take a little word – “Abba”, “Love”, “God” and let it lead you into silence. The repetition of these is enough. The shorter the better. This helps us control our thoughts. Our minds are busy and we need to quiet them. Stay with your word.
Find time to be quiet in our noisy busy world and develop a practice. Then you are present and God can speak to you. You have come home to your heart. We are not alone. We rest in God. Our minds, our bodies and our spirits are at peace. Attending to posture and breathing can help. They help us to be open and attentive. Sit alert and wait on God.
Discovering peace is not always easy in our 21st century world. Even though we might be restless on the surface there is a place deep down where we can touch the calm and quell the noise. We can withdraw into ourselves and calm the storms. Peace is hidden in the depths of our being. Dag Hammarskjold said “ the longest road is the journey inward”. Our world today does not encourage silence.
God calls us to rest in Him as a child rests on its mother’s breast. Sitting quietly in the garden or by the sea or in the park wasting time with God is a good way to start. Silence is a luxury at times, but it has enormous benefits for our health, our relationships, our wellness.
Sr. Ann Crowley is a Mercy Sister, based in Kilkee
Clare Champion Article 6th of August 2021