Catholics (and other Christians) can be a noisy bunch. I’m always a bit surprised when I visit a church just before Mass and it’s filled with chatter. Maybe I’m showing my age here, but I recall as a boy that visiting a church was like visiting a library — it was a place reserved for the utmost silence.
Of course, to be fair, nowadays many libraries seem to be pretty chatty places as well.
Contemplatives intuitively recognize that silence is the lingua franca of the spiritual life. Silence is the heart of the mystical life, the foundation of the search for God, and the portal to awareness of God’s presence and love. So it’s kind of sad that so many Christians have accepted the noisiness of our culture, and even imported it into our sanctuaries.
If you share my desire to cultivate more silence (both external silence and interior silence) in your life, perhaps these seven verses from sacred scripture will inspire you. I’m sharing these with you as a simple reminder that, God knows — we all could use more silence in our lives.
- After the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. I Kings 19:13. Here Elijah is seeking God on the Mountain of the Lord, finding him not in the wind, or the earthquake, or fire, but in silence. Other translations render this as “a still small voice” or even “a sound of sheer silence.”
- For God alone my soul waits in silence… Psalm 62:1. Some translations render this as “My soul rests in God” — but the Hebrew word for rest clearly connotes silence. Not just any silence, but a restful, waiting silence: the kind of silence we seek when we seek to “be still and know” God (Psalm 46:10).
- Silence is praise to you, O God in Zion. Psalm 65:1. This verse is often mistranslated as some variation of “To you we owe our praise” or “Praise awaits you.” But the literal Hebrew is quite clear: we owe God an expectant, waiting silence — the silence of contemplation — and in giving that silence to God, we praise God.
- For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15. The Hebrew word here translated as “quiet” not only carries the sense of inner silence, but inner peace as well. Our salvation and strength comes not through noise and much talking but by cultivating what the Greeks call hesychia — serene interior silence.
- But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him! Habakkuk 2:20. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.
- After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen. Luke 9:36. This is the culmination of the Transfiguration of Christ; “they” refers to Peter, James and John. The takeaway: when we encounter the glory of God, an appropriate response is silence.
- When he broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Revelation 8:1. When people ask me how much time to devote to silent prayer, I point to this verse: “If a half hour is good enough for heaven, it’s good enough for us!”
Can you think of other verses in scripture that commend silence to us? Please let me know, either in a comment to this blog post or via social media.
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