It is true that we can relate to God through words, rituals, symbols, images, visualization, etc., but only in silence when we are fully present to the indwelling presence of God deep within us, does our relationship with God become experiential and personal. In silence, God is not known at the intellectual level, but God is experienced. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). It is only in silence and stillness that we truly become aware of God.
For an experience of God, silence is essential and in fact a must, but it is really difficult to observe and remain in silence. Three monks had decided to observe a day of silence, but after sometime one of the monks said, “Today, I shall not speak at all.” The second monk said, “You have already broken the rule of silence.” The third monk said, “I am the only one who has not spoken so far.” (Tony de Mello) How difficult it is to observe silence! In this hi-tech noise-polluted culture where speed and noise are valued and worshipped, the need for silence is rarely appreciated. In our culture it appears to be awkward to remain silent. We do verything to avoid the embarrassing situation of silence. As soon as we get into our vehicles, even before we adjust the seat belt, we turn on the radio or the stereo to avoid silence. Some people feel a need to have the T.V. or radio turned on when they are home alone, just to avoid the quietness. At socials, we think that more the noise, the better the situation. Silence can really be frightening. We choose to avoid silence because silence leads to an inward journey that reveals our fears, insecurities, false egos, and it forces us to confront our true self.
It is indeed very difficult to be silent. The mind is like a monkey always moving, jumping, and hopping from one branch to another, and we can imagine the situation of the monkey if it is drunk. Even during prayer, when the mind is focused on God, the mind wanders elsewhere. For an experience of God, we must take the risk in letting go of the familiar ground on which we stand and our usual style of praying, and enter into the world of deep silence. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; …” (Mt 6:6-7). Inner room and closing the door, refers not only to external silence, but also the inner silence. The body and mind with all of their faculties are directed to God alone. The mind in silence becomes aware of nothing except its presence before God. In this awareness nothing else matters, the mind does not wander, and if it does, it is brought to the awareness of God again.
The call to ‘be still and know God’ is to be still in both body and mind to know God. If to know is to enter into a personal and living relationship with God, then the only goal of silence is to have an experience of union and intimacy with the divine.
For an experience of God, thoughts are not dropped and the mind is not brought under control to arrive at a noble silence. Silence, however grand and beautiful it may be, still is not the goal of prayer. In the stillness and silence of the body and mind, we open our entire being, our mental and volitional faculties, to God alone and remain in God, letting every part of our being be filled with the grace and light of God. The focus of silence is not our selves, but God.
Silence results in the awareness of emptiness. Experience of emptiness is not negative but essential for well-being and beauty of life. It is the empty space within musical notes that makes music possible and harmonious. It is the empty space within the flowers that make the bouquet of flowers so pleasing to the eye. From the circumference of the wheel, the spokes merge at the hub where there is only emptiness, and this emptiness is essential for the wheel to rotate. It is through the empty window that breeze and sunlight enter a room. Silence results in emptiness, but it is an emptiness that is filled with God’s presence. It is in this apparent emptiness that we experience God as the ground of our being.
Silence is the spoken language of God. For this we must enter the cave of the heart.