From the story of Moses to passages found in the gospels of John and Luke, the Bible is ripe with stories of those hearing the voice of God. Yet today, most of us would be suspicious of anyone who claimed God had talked to them. We might believe they were lying, maybe even nuts. Which got me thinking:
Does God still talk to us? If yes, how do we hear God’s voice?
Now if you’re like me, you have felt the presence of God, which would seem to be the minimum requirement in having a dialog. We must be present. God must be present. Yet, we sometimes forget that in our highest moments and lowest points, God is with us at all times. Thomas V. Morris, writing on “The Hidden God”, explains it this way:
God is omnipresent, pervasive of all reality, and infinite. There are no divine boundaries. What seems to be a total absence of the divine is only an illusion produced by the reality of his all-encompassing presence.
When we sense the presence of God, the conversation can begin.
There are many in the spiritual community who believe that God still communicates with us—but it is not in a language that’s made up of words. It is in a universal language of the heart. This language cannot be spoken but can be sensed in a place deep within us. It is the language of silence.
In his book Finding God in the Body, Ben Riggs writes that God is always talking to us, but it is a silent conversation. It is the language God speaks. Riggs says that we should not mistake this silence for proof of absence. He quotes Father Thomas Keating as saying:
God’s first language is silence. God still speaks, but people do not know how to hear the sound of silence.
Similarly, Riggs tells us the story of Mother Teresa, who once said that “When I pray, I just listen.” A puzzled reporter queried her about this statement, asking “What does God say, Mother? What do you hear?” Mother Teresa’s response: “He says nothing. He just listens.”
But how does one hear the sound of silence?
I have previously written how we need to get into the right head space to find this silence and connect with God, in this case through centering prayer. But now I’d like to look at this from a more philosophical perspective, via one of the great spiritual minds of our time, James B. Carse.
Toward the beginning of his book The Silence of God, Meditations on Prayer, Carse writes of his initial dismay at discovering that God was silent. This silence did not sit well with the author and for years he looked for proof of God’s existence. In his words:
What I experienced, and experienced repeatedly, is the silence of God. For many years, this was a distressing matter for me. I did not consider it an experience, but the absence of an experience.
Yet, in time, Carse came to see the positive spiritual value of God’s silence. He writes that “in an encounter with divine reality we do not hear a voice but acquire a voice, and the voice we acquire is our own.” In other words, when God speaks, God speaks through us.
There are many passages in The Silence of God that resonate and below I share a few bits of wisdom from Carse. I have lightly edited his words and strung them together in a loose narrative:
- The silence of God is everywhere.
- It is not a silence into which God has disappeared, but a silence in which God is remarkably present.
- God comes to us first as a listener, not a speaker. There is not a conceivable human setting in which God is not present, listening.
- God does not come when you call. God is there, then you call.
- You must move toward God from the heart, then God will respond. God will first wait until you do what it is possible for you to do within yourself, even if that action is exceedingly modest.
- If you speak from the heart, God listens.
- God does not respond to us; we respond to God. God is already silent, and does not become silent when we speak.
- To speak from the heart is to ask and to receive at the same time. Whomever you speak to from your heart you receive in your heart. You will have God in your heart—in the very act of asking.
- It is not theology or philosophy, but only your heart that will lead you to God.
To summarize: 1. In silence, we sense the presence of God. 2. We can then speak to God. 3. God listens. 4. God responds through our own voice and actions.
For another take on the silence of God, with a nod to the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, see my story from May, 2014: “You already know how to talk to God. Here’s how to listen.”