Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Reflec­tions

Soli­tude is nev­er com­plete with­out silence. Silence is solitude’s nec­es­sary and nat­ur­al com­pan­ion. Dom John Main writes, Now to tread the spir­i­tu­al path we must learn to be silent. What is required of us is a jour­ney into pro­found silence.” Why is silence so help­ful? It is not just that we use words to con­trol and man­age oth­ers and need to be free from such soul-destroy­ing habits, though this is true enough. It is that we use words con­stant­ly to adjust our pub­lic image. You see, we fear so deeply what oth­ers think of us. If I have done some wrong thing, or even some good thing that I think you might mis­un­der­stand, and I learn that you know about it I am going to be very tempt­ed to speak up and straight­en you out on that mat­ter. Now, silence is one of the deep­est dis­ci­plines of the spir­i­tu­al life sim­ply because it puts the stop­per on all that self-justification.

Through the dis­ci­pline of silence, then, we are learn­ing to place our rep­u­ta­tion in God’s hands. We no longer need to be sure every­one under­stands us or thinks well of us. We let go of even need­ing to know what they think of us. We are silent.

Inter­est­ing­ly, we come to val­ue words more in times of silence. This is because we are no longer cheap­en­ing words by overuse. We are still, and in the still­ness we are cre­at­ing an open, emp­ty space where God can draw near. And in this still­ness we just may hear God’s voice in his won­drous, ter­ri­ble, lov­ing, all-embrac­ing silence.” —Richard J. Foster

Excerpts from Moments of Christ: The Path of Meditation

In the fol­low­ing selec­tion, an essay tak­en from his book Moments of Christ: The Path of Med­i­ta­tion, Father John is not just teach­ing us a style of pray­ing. Nei­ther does he advise either soli­tude or silence just for its own sake. Silence is a path into the real­i­ty of the uni­verse, where God is in charge and we are not, where we can be flood­ed by God’s love. Notice also how his under­stand­ing of this way of being flows out of scrip­tur­al under­stand­ings, such as those of St. Paul.

The Mean­ing of Silence

There is a great feel­ing among our con­tem­po­raries, I think, of the need, per­haps even the extreme­ly urgent need, to recov­er the spir­i­tu­al dimen­sion in our lives. There is a feel­ing that unless we do recov­er that spir­i­tu­al dimen­sion we are going to lose our grip on life altogether.

Com­mit­ment to the spir­i­tu­al real­i­ty is sim­ply com­mit­ment to real­i­ty and it is the way to real­ly appre­ci­ate the won­der of all life. It is the way to come to under­stand the extra­or­di­nary fact of the mys­tery of life itself, the inner hid­den secret of life that gives it its real excitement. 

Enter­ing on the spir­i­tu­al path is com­ing to appre­ci­ate our life as a voy­age of dis­cov­ery. It is cer­tain­ly my expe­ri­ence that, if you set out on the path of med­i­ta­tion with this com­mit­ment to enter deeply into your own inte­ri­or hid­den life, then every day for you will become a rev­e­la­tion of new dimen­sions to that life and a deep­er under­stand­ing of it.

A Jour­ney into Pro­found Silence

Now to tread the spir­i­tu­al path we must learn to be silent. What is required of us is a jour­ney into pro­found silence. Part of the prob­lem of the weak­en­ing of reli­gion in our times is that reli­gion uses words for its prayers and rit­u­als, but those words have to be charged with mean­ing and they must be charged with suf­fi­cient mean­ing to move our hearts, to set us out in new direc­tions and to change our lives. They can only be charged with this degree of mean­ing if they spring from spir­it, and spir­it requires silence. We all need to use words, but to use them with pow­er we all need to be silent.

We all know that we can often come to know anoth­er per­son most pro­found­ly in silence. To be silent with anoth­er per­son is a deep expres­sion of trust and con­fi­dence and it is only when we are uncon­fi­dent that we feel com­pelled to talk. To be silent with anoth­er per­son is tru­ly to be with that oth­er per­son. Noth­ing is so pow­er­ful in build­ing mutu­al con­fi­dence between peo­ple than a silence which is ease­ful and cre­ative. Noth­ing reveals inau­then­tic­i­ty more dra­mat­i­cal­ly than silence that is not cre­ative but fearful.

Let­ting Silence Emerge

I think what all of us have to learn is that we do not have to cre­ate silence. The silence is there with­in us. What we have to do is to enter into it, to become silent, to become the silence. The pur­pose of med­i­ta­tion and the chal­lenge of med­i­ta­tion is to allow our­selves to become silent enough to allow this inte­ri­or silence to emerge. Silence is the lan­guage of the Spirit.

These words of St. Paul writ­ing to the Eph­esians, are charged with the pow­er of silence.

With this in mind, then, I kneel in prayer to the Father, from whom every fam­i­ly in heav­en and on earth takes its name, that out of the trea­sures of his glo­ry he may grant you strength and pow­er through his Spir­it in your inner being, that through faith Christ may dwell in your hearts in love. I pray that you may have the pow­er to com­pre­hend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that sur­pass­es knowl­edge, so that you may be filled with all the full­ness of God. Now to him who by the pow­er at work with­in us is able to accom­plish abun­dant­ly far more than all we can ask or imag­ine, to him be glo­ry in the church and in Christ Jesus to all gen­er­a­tions, for­ev­er and ever. Amen. —Eph. 3:14 – 21

The words we use in try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate the Chris­t­ian mes­sage in the Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ence have to be charged with strength and pow­er, but they can only be charged with strength and pow­er if they spring from the silence of the Spir­it in our inner being… Leav­ing behind all oth­er words, ideas, imag­i­na­tions and fan­tasies is learn­ing to enter into the pres­ence of the Spir­it who dwells in your inner heart, who dwells there in love. The Spir­it of God dwells in our hearts in silence, and it is in humil­i­ty and in faith that we must enter into that silent pres­ence. St. Paul ends that pas­sage in Eph­esians with the words, So may you attain to full­ness of being, the full­ness of God him­self.” That is our destiny.

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Excerpts tak­en from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines (Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. Harper­collins, 2000.) and used with grat­i­tude and permission.

Originally published December 1999