Alone with God: Cultivating Silence
When it Scares You
I just can't seem to get away from
these posts on silence. As I speak with
others so many people seem to have a
hard time being silent. Even when we
come to prayer we want to say our
stuff and then go on our noisy way.
Today the part that stuck out to me
about this was the idea that silence
is SCARY to many of us. In a world
artificially full of talk, a frightening
thing starts to happen when silence
intrudes: we begin to look around and
see our naked and vulnerable selves.
Then we think we are the only ones
naked and vulnerable so we wall
off that experience: the proverbial
fingers stuck in our ear, repeating
gibberish to drown out the Voice of
Truth that comes to us.
Whatever was life like before cell
phones? I see people talking,
talking, talking, talking: business
people, mothers, bicycle riders, students,
and kids. Pretty soon we will have little
teeny cell phones for in-utero babies.
What are we really saying? That talking
makes you important? That having someone
call you gives you an identity? That having
lots of phone favorites or IM buddies is
an indicator or your worth?
Why is silence so scary? Because it
brings with it the atmosphere best
conducive for reflecting upon our inner
state. It also brings us to the place
where we can sense God's Presence: a
place, as I have said in a previous
post, that can, should, and often
does take us beyond the realm
of talk and words.
"Be still and know that I am God"
(Psalm 46:10). Can we not know that
in a noisy state? Perhaps when things
are noisy we can kid ourselves into
thinking that things are fine, after
all, I am busy, and busy people are
fine: they get things done, they DO
things, they go places. They are seen.
When I was growing up, I was kind of
the quiet type. I still am. People
would say, "You are so quiet." But they
would say it in such a way that it
suggested a less than desirable way
to be. Sometimes the funny, and sad,
thing that would happen, and still
does happen, is that they would say,
"What are you thinking?" and then proceed
to act as if I could see right
through them to the very worst
place in their souls. Come to think
of it, it happened yesterday.
Quiet me has learned this: people like
to talk. They like to have people
listen to them when they talk. But
if they are not talking, they don't
want you to be quiet, because then
uncomfortable, unwanted stuff starts
to bubble up like an unwanted zit.
What do people sometimes say when
they find a "soul friend"? "I can
be quiet with them and not say
anything and it is still comfortable."
Dear ones, God wants us to feel that
comfortable with Him in silence.
He wants to be our "soul friend."
Being silent is not a sign that
you are a bore, or lack social
skills, or are somehow emotionally
stunted. Quite the opposite. Whole
people are able to be silent. They
are unaffected, or at least
less affected, by environmental
Here is a humorous story about that:
when I was in first grade I was
a model student: smart, obedient,
did what was asked of me, but
apparently on the low end of the
bell curve of noise scale for my class.
My sweet first grade teacher, yes,
it was her first year also, thought
that putting me in the back of the
room with the wild boys would be
good for me. Make me less quiet.
"Bring me out of my shell." Hee-hee.
Yee-haw! Did she have some serious
explaining to do when I became not
just a little less quiet, but the wild
girl extraordinaire in league with
the pack of wild boys!
My glittering report card of all
"A's" was besmirched with a "C"
in conduct. Hmmm. Better to leave
well enough alone. Trust me, silence
is a virtue!
So why can't we be quiet? When you
read the great masters of prayer
they always address the idea of
the wandering mind and how to
quell it. As a spiritual director
when I ask people about their
prayer life, they often say,
"I get so easily distracted, I
think of this or that, of what
to make for supper, or what to
buy for a birthday present for
They identify the problem, but
they don't identify the problem
behind the problem. Truth is that
being silent can be scary. Scary
as a roll-a-coaster ride in the
dark. Space Mountain indeed. But
the space is our dark inner space.
We can only take little doses of
it before we start to scream.
The trick is learning to acclimate
to the inner landscape. Silence
is our guide, but do we trust her?
No. For a "quiet thing" she leads us
straight toward the very worst horrors
buried in our closets. Not just
dry skeletons. Rotting skeletons
that still stink. Things we have not
properly buried. Issues undealt with.
When tragedies like September 11th
happen, or even war tragedies, why
is it so important to find the remains
of our loved ones and give them a
proper burial? Isn't it better never
to know what happened then to be
called into a morgue and be handed
a finger bone of our loved one?
In some odd way, apparently not.
It is the same with our inner
tragedies. Time does not really
heal all wounds. Only God does.
We need to be able to find healing
and closure to the difficult events
in our life. We need to find God
in the silence.
If we do not cultivate silence in
our lives, it will sneak up on us
every chance it gets because God is
about getting those dark places
healed inside of us.
I'll talk more about this in my
next post. But in the meantime
be thinking about why silence
is often so scary. Trust me, it
will lead to more insight then
just thinking you have ADHD
(Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder) in your relationship
with God. The reason behind the
reason is always golden.
God is with you. He'll keep you
safe. Cultivate silence. Go ahead,
this Quiet One dares you! :)
when God is silent
listening to God
alone with God