If you have been reading along with us in Beginning to Pray then you have probably gotten the sense that silence is important when it comes to prayer.
This idea stands in contradiction to our often noisy lives. For most of us it is easy to go days without a moment of silence.
We wake up to an alarm and then flip on the TV. We rush to get everyone up and dressed and then make a quick call as we walk out the door with the phone to our ear. The radio is on while driving to work and then we arrive to a workplace filled with people. Even when it is quiet around us our thoughts are racing, computers are buzzing and the phone is ringing. On the way home it is the same thing, maybe now we have kids in the car arguing or singing. If we manage to shut off the TV before dinner it is usually back on by bed time and we are lulled to sleep by the evening news.
Only to start the whole thing over again the next day.
Even with an intentionally quiet lifestyle, let’s say no TV and working from a quiet home office, silence is still elusive. There may be less noise, but that isn’t all that Bloom is describing.
The silence that we are talking about is a shutting off of the noises around us, and more importantly, the noises within us.
I’ve only been inside of my own head, so yours may be different. But my mind is constantly in motion. It circles from what I have to do today, to the argument I had last night, the discussion I need to have tomorrow, my hopes for our next house, my fears, my doubts, it does not stop.
We are all creatures of habit and our minds love a pattern. We typically do the same thing every day. In my morning I wake up, lay in bed for a while, then get up, make tea, and sit on the couch and have some reading time. Your routine is probably different but you have one and when it is thrown off you notice. And though we can choose to change our patterns, each day that we continue them further sets the routine in our minds. So when we decide to start the day off with a jog instead of a cup of coffee it is initially really difficult, but if we can get ourselves to stick with it for a few weeks it begins to feel second nature as a new pattern is established.
Our thoughts are no different. There are patterns of thoughts, some of them negative, others positive, some of them a waste of time and others absolutely essential. Our thoughts remind us of our place and purpose in the world. But our thoughts are mainly focused on. . . you guessed it . . . ourselves, on us, on me. So that to pry our minds out of this cycle, to learn to sit and listen to God, something we were in fact created to do, becomes a strain. I find it incredibly exhausting.
Bloom, along with many of the church fathers, is clear that practicing silence is important. Shutting off our thoughts and being intentionally quiet is the first step in listening to God.
Now I have just dabbled with this before, I am no expert. If you want someone who really knows what they are talking about you can go to structured silent retreat. These are often offered at monasteries and different Christian retreat centers. I would love to do this and I suggest you do it. too But if you can’t get to something more instructive I am going to share an exercise that I think is consistent with the Bloom’s suggestions and is something I have practiced before and am doing again, as of last night.
The Liturgy of Life Five Minute per Day Silence Challenge
Set a timer to go off at the same time every day, mine is 9 pm, by then I am usually home and Zenie is settled down. Set another timer for five minutes later so for me 9:05 pm.
Select a short reading. I am doing the 23rd psalm because I have it mostly memorized and I think it is beautiful. The Lord’s prayer would be another good passage. You may want to write your passage down on a note card or something you can keep with you (a non-digital version is best). Select a reasonably comfortable and quiet spot (not so comfy that you fall asleep, no TV or music that will distract you).
When the alarm goes off stop what you are doing. Right then, just stop and leave it. Read your reading, preferably out loud. Read carefully and intentionally. Don’t let your mind wander during the reading. Think only about what you are saying. This should take 1-2 minutes.
Then in the last few minutes just sit quietly. You can look around, notice the things around you, breathe slowly and calmly. You may notice the sounds around you or the draft in the room. But don’t let yourself start day-dreaming or planning or analyzing or anything, just notice your space and yourself and be present.
If you are like me within about 2 seconds (really probably half a second) you are in the midst of a mental and spiritual battle. Be prepared. Use a simple prayer, either a phrase from your reading or the Jesus prayer to bring you back. I usually say to myself “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy of me,” or something simple like “I am here and God is here with me,” or “Thank you Jesus.” Don’t let yourself go on and on in prayer. Use the prayer to bring you back into focus and then resume sitting quietly. Remember this is time to listen not to speak.
My timer actually went off while I was typing this. The minutes felt very long. I found myself battling thoughts like “when is this going to be over?” and “I need to make sure to include this in my post.” Every second is a battle. But it is a worthwhile fight to gain control over my thoughts so that I can truly submit them to God. And so that I actually can be quiet and hear God if He decides to speak to me in a whisper.
This is a discipline and like all disciplines it takes time. So don’t be discouraged and don’t get exhausted. Please hold me accountable in this and feel free to share your experiences, We would love to hear them.