Listening to Sacred Stillness: When Words Are Not Enough

Listening to Sacred Stillness: When Words Are Not Enough October 30, 2018

When Words Are Not Enough

Every morning seems to bring new tragedies and words are not enough to help us understand them.

A person who disagrees with public figures sends bombs to them through the mail. Someone else tries to enter an African-American church armed with guns but ends up shooting people at a grocery store. Another person goes into a synagogue and shoots 11 people worshipping there.

Each new tragedy pushes everything else into the background. Can we even remember the journalist who was murdered and dismembered in the embassy?

Our hearts are filled with pain and fear, mourning and confusion. Questions rise up from deep within us but words are not enough to ask them.

We ask our leaders how these things can happen here in our world full of promise. It is as if they do not hear our words. They are trapped in their own words and their own dramas of partisan rancor.

Who can help us understand what we cannot find words to express? How can we even ask for help when words are not enough?

Even those of us who believe in the power of spiritual life do not know how to ask for help. Can we trust spiritual life within us and all around us to help us understand?

Where are the answers we were so confident about only a few days ago? Can we ever be certain again when we do not even know how to ask our own questions? Who can we ask when words are not enough?

Where Do We Go When Words Are Not Enough?

Some people bring their own questions which are too deep for words to me.

They know there is something spiritual about what I do. The picture they have may not be clear and they may need more understanding. At least they have someone to ask.

I try to explain I do not have all the answers. It is not my job to check everything off their list or to answer all their questions. There are times when I share insights I have found and how they came to me. My work is more focused on helping them understand and ask their questions, even when words are not enough.

We sit together with the deep questions bubbling up within them. People tell me hardly anyone else ever listens to them. Together we find the sacred space in which they can begin reflecting on their questions. We share our questions and insights, trying to go beyond where words can take us.

Sometimes we sit together listening to stillness.

Many people need to work their way through all the words they have stored up and hidden away. We examine each question to find the place where it fits into the whole.

Laughing and crying, listening and reflecting we slowly come to a place where we find sacred stillness.

We work our way through all our words until we reach a place where we know words are not enough.

When Words Are Not Enough We Listen to Sacred Stillness

Together we listen to sacred stillness. We are not researching the answers to our questions or even refining the ways we ask them.

The sacred stillness of spiritual life is not a search engine we use to find our answers. We take time to listen and raise the questions we do not know how to ask.

Our questions and thoughts and feelings are transformed by the power of sacred stillness.

Spiritual life does not resolve our questions or make them go away. Sacred stillness does not change the world around us or the things people do.

We take time to breathe and listen to stillness, letting go of our concerns for a few moments. Giving our consent for spiritual life to do its work in us helps us understand what we cannot put into words.

Listening to sacred stillness will not bring those people back to life or make their deaths less tragic. Spiritual life is not about making us feel better or more comfortable.

We weep as we struggle with questions we cannot fit into words. Listening to sacred stillness allows us to express our deep truths when words are not enough. We go beyond words and thoughts and feelings and understanding into spiritual life.

Spiritual life is not simply a way to sort out what we think and how we feel. Contemplative practices are not ways to avoid or escape the difficulties of life.

We listen when our words are not enough for what we have to say.

Understanding When Words Are Not Enough

When we want to understand something we try to analyze and explain and put it into words.

We believe sorting things out and finding a way to think our way through is how we gain understanding. Some of us believe the more we can say about something the better we understand it.

Listening to sacred stillness is not about examining things closely and deciding what to say.

Spiritual life shows us how to understand things in a different way. We sit with the violence and injustice all around us and within us. Spiritual life within us is the same as spiritual life around us in the world.

When words are not enough we listen and responses emerge within us.

We realize understanding is how we try to come to terms with what is happening in our world. When we cannot comprehend spiritual life helps us live life in ways we had not seen before.

When words are not enough reflection and listening to sacred stillness are how we allow our questions to emerge within us. The questions we have seem overwhelming to us, more than we can bear.

Listening to sacred stillness is how we bring our questions to life when words are not enough.

We have questions to ask which are beyond words.

How will we gain understanding when words are not enough today?

Where will we go when words are not enough this week?

[Image by vadim5241]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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