Seasons of the Soul
Making Space for the Divine: The Gift of Silence
Regular practice of silent prayer and meditation helps us to grow aware of the chatter of our minds and the judgments we carry about ourselves and others. By becoming fully present to these thoughts and being compassionate with ourselves, we can start to notice when they rise in everyday life. The desert elders remind us to pay attention to our inner judgments as a form of noise which poisons the silence we so desperately seek.
Sitting in your cell requires patience to not flee back into the world of distraction and numbness. It means being fully present to our inner life without anxiety. Interior peace comes through sitting in silence, through attentiveness and watchfulness.
Much of the time I find silence a deep source of consolation. However, there are many times when I find myself wrestling during my silent practice: watching the clock, feeling impatient, restless, distracted. The tempting thoughts arise that I could get up early and walk away, that I wasn't really present that day and so could try again tomorrow. And yet the call is precisely to stay with the practice when things become difficult. The desert elders said this was a lifelong struggle. They considered themselves beginners on the spiritual path. I try to remember this during my inner debate about staying put. I try to smile at myself. If these wise elders were beginners, then certainly I have only just begun to explore the possible depths of silence.
The desert elders warn us repeatedly about the ways we resist silence, especially in our interior chatter and the onslaught of thoughts most of us experience when we sit down to pray. In fact, this encounter in silence is often why we resist slowing down and being still. We fear what might be revealed in that space.
Our lives are precious. Each moment should be cherished. The more I stay with myself in those times of challenge, the more I open up the possibility of sustained and lasting peace. Lest we think this is a selfish activity, the world desperately needs this kind of peace that rises up from within the hearts of passionate and committed people. Silence awakens us to renewed vision, to a deepened awareness of the world around us.
We each live with fundamental lies, stories we tell about ourselves that are untrue. Our words help to strengthen the illusions we live with. Silence helps to free us from these constructions and heal us from our attachments. Our normal speech seems to reinforce the way we keep ourselves from freedom.
Silence isn't just the absence of sound, but a form of human consciousness. This silence of the heart is a profound place of moving beyond ego, judgments, and dualistic thinking to witness the presence of the divine. In silence, we can experience a sense of inner expansiveness which makes more room for God's presence.
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and pilgrimages to Ireland, Germany, and Austria. She is the author of eight books on monasticism and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and her forthcoming book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey (Spring 2015, Ave Maria Press). Christine lives as a monk in the world in Galway, Ireland with her husband of twenty years.