Monday, November 4, 2013

The value of silence in our search for God

We don’t do very well with silence very much as human beings, do we?  Generally just looking around, people seem to have an innate need to make their presence felt and known by the world around them.  The world of the social media has made it even more convenient and perhaps even enticing to let the world know not just that you are alive, but what you had for your last meal, your thoughts on any matter whatsoever and maybe even who is the last person who had upset, angered and disappointed you. 

Spiritual masters through the ages have always valued silence as a discipline and a doorway through which a disciple of Christ grows and matures.  And yet, it is also very clear that the place of silence in a healthy spirituality is hard to define and specify.  There are after all, different kinds of silence.  Just keeping to oneself and not associating with other is not just unhealthy, but it doesn’t do much in fostering that inner growth that comes from deep contemplation. 

Many do fear silence.  Good silence has a way of forming, teaching and revealing one’s true inner self, and many do not want to see their real, naked, exposed and vulnerable selves that require conversion, repentance and even a deep experience of compunction. 

Meister Eckhart, a great spiritual writer in advocating silence, once said “There is nothing in the world that resembles God as much as silence”.  Does this mean that God has nothing to say in our struggle to meet him, in our loneliness, in our suffering and in our darkness?  Does this also mean then that it is pointless for us to seek that God makes any sort of indication that he exists?  One way of looking at this positively is to see that there is really a privileged way through which a soul who is truly hungering and focused on finding God can locate that key to touch holiness and grace.  Silence, I believe has a lot to do with true spiritual hunger.

We all hunger for a lot of things.  Many people hunger for the wrong things in life, causing all sorts of problems and anxieties.  The book of Wisdom lists so many things that the human heart hungers wrongly for, and the consequences that come with an errant hunger.  Recently in the press, we have been reading how Singapore seems to be getting well known for its street food.  Reading these reports from my convalescing corner in my home, I can only dream of the day that I can once more savour these enticing flavours.  I now can only hunger for them in my fantasies.  Interestingly, there was a contest held in the heart of the city where contestants placed their hands on a particular position of a brand new car, and they could not move their hands one bit except for breaks of about a minute every few hours.  These participants hungered very much for the car and apparently the winner managed to succeed in not moving that hand for about 72 hours!  He must have really been hungry for that vehicle. 

When we are truly hungry for God, we will want to find that key, that privileged way through which we can enter into the heart of God.  The problem with many of us is that we just don’t hunger enough for God to use the time-tested key of spiritual silence.  Some of us are pushed into silence out of our situation, when a suffering or a pain or a disappointment in life forces a silence upon us.  But it takes a certain determination within to embrace this silence as God’s time tested way of allowing us to enter into his heart. 

Is there a language in heaven?  Of course the Church has always taught that there is the heavenly liturgy that doesn’t end, but language is something earthly.  In heaven, silence speaks plenty.  Lovers know this very well, where there is hardly ever a need to speak a word when two hearts are “beating as one”.  And if God is the ultimate lover of us all, isn’t the value of silence the greatest hallmark of God’s love?

A friend of mine recently lost her mother due to illness.  She said that she missed her mother everyday, and comes home to a silent home, and is so afraid that she might become depressed.  She calls out to her mother when she comes from work, and thinks that this is not healthy.  I, on the other hand think that this is healthy, but I encourage her to just keep silence in the home upon returning each day.  After all, when we are separated by either distance or death from our loved ones, we can be with them in silence.

When I was in active ministry, and visited the sick and homebound often, I would struggle much when seeing the pain and suffering of those I faced to bless and to give Holy Communion.  But I knew that my silent presence in the room did provide some kind of comfort, some kind of solace to the one who was suffering so much.  In those moments, silence provided an empathy as well as a certain healing of which I had nothing to do with.  It was the grace of God at work.

I am for the better part of the next 12 months of my life going to live in a silent corner to convalesce.  I hope to hunger well in my “silent corner”.


  1. May this comfort you :
    ... in the holy lonesome echo of the silence of God ��

  2. Hmmm frLuke, this is so true "Good silence has a way of forming, teaching and revealing one’s true inner self, and many do not want to see their real, naked, exposed an vulnerable selves that require conversion, repentance and even a deep experience of compunction."

    And thank you for 'classifying' it 'Good' and so i shall persevere. There are times i told God how i wish i do not know Him and so would not have to face my other self.


  3. Thank you Fr Luke for this beautiful and insightful is definately food for thought for those of us hungering for God. You are remembered daily in my prayers as you go through this journey in your silent corner....may Our Blessed Mother comfort you. God bless

  4. Silence is indeed a beautiful thing. It is in the silence that we truly hear. It is when we quiet the world and ourselves that we hear God. He is always talking to us, and we may catch bits here and there, but when truly silent and truly shedding the world that we lose ourselves and hear Him and know how blessed we are.

    Please know you are in my prayers.

  5. "Be still, and know that I am God"
    - Psalm 46:10

    "Silence is a gateway to the soul, and the soul is the gateway to God."
    - Christopher Jamison, OSB

    Enjoy the silence - it is a luxury in modern times.



  6. “Good silence has a way of forming, teaching and revealing one’s true inner self, and many do not want to see their real, naked, exposed and vulnerable selves that require conversion, repentance and even a deep experience of compunction.”

    I first came to befriend Silence (of the good kind) when introduced to Christian Meditation of Fr John Main more than a decade ago. Surprisingly, I learnt that silence is not just the absence of noise, or abstaining from movement or distractions but rather a stillness of the spirit and this silence/stillness is a silence of the body, mind and emotions. So it is an internal job!

    This was and still is never easy though it may sound simplistic to just sit down with your back straight and be still for at least 20 to 30 minutes, breathing in and out gently as one listens attentively to the silent mouthing of the holy word (mantra) of one’s choice. Silence then becomes a true prayer, a prayer of the heart .......St Teresa of Avila said that if we attend to the “Our Father”, just attend to it, listen to it in our hearts, it can bring us to the highest form of virtue........or ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ that tells of praying constantly repeating the ‘one little word.’

    However, as one becomes still and silent, one also becomes aware of the tension or unrest within - recognizing within oneself the presence of good and the presence of evil, both one’s will to serve God and one’s reluctance.........these forces locked in perpetual battle.
    It is with the gentle tenacity of disciplining oneself to come into silence twice daily that one slowly practises touching deeply and mindfully.......the hurts, the vulnerabilities, the inner self ( like you said) and the realization that one cannot go forward without God’s help, that one must acknowledge one’s complete dependence on Him.

    The poet Henry W Longfellow expressed beautifully:
    Let us, then, labor for an inward stillness –
    An inward stillness and an inward healing:
    That perfect silence where the lips and heart
    Are still, and we no longer entertain
    Our own imperfect thoughts and vain options,
    But God alone speaks in us, and we wait
    In singleness of heart, that we may know
    His will, and in the silence of our spirits,
    That we may do his will and do that only.

    God bless you, Fr

  7. Father, just want to say thank you for this post. God bless and wishing you a speedy and full recovery.