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.
There are times when words are simply distractions and are quite unnecessary. I experience this when I enter a forest and smell the dampness of the earth, the scent of the pines, and hear the quiet of creation’s movement. Verbal descriptions are too limited; a running commentary is an interruption of the sensory spiritual experience. You have probably had your own experiences where silence is the best and only response to the situation.
Thomas Carlyle called it the "Worship of Silence" - the sacred respect for restraint in speech until “…thought has silently matured itself, …to hold one's tongue till some meaning lie behind to set it wagging....” Carlyle had a passion for silence. These three quotes summarize his feelings: “Silence is more eloquent than words.” “Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together.” “Speech is human, silence is divine, yet also brutish and dead: therefore we must learn both arts.” Ralph Waldo Emerson shared that high regard as these two quotes confirm: “Happy the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man.” “I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.”
These two great thinkers were friends through written correspondence for years until one time Emerson made a special journey to Scotland to meet Carlyle. When Emerson arrived for this momentous occasion, Carlyle greeted him warmly, lit them both a pipe, and the two mental titans sat together in virtual silence until it was time for them to retire. They warmly shook hands and praised each other for the productive evening they had shared.
There are times when feelings, the ambience, the circumstance is too profound and precious for words. It is only in silence that we can fully embrace certain situations, stop trying to sense things, understand things, or explain things, and just enjoy being in the moment.
And this is difficult for some. Often times, when Mary and I are driving somewhere, we sit with each other in silence. Some people don’t get this. One time we were driving a friend to the Bay Area and our garrulous passenger finally came to a resting point in her unending monologue. Perhaps two minutes went by, and she asked, “Is this a comfortable silence?”
For some people, silence is uncomfortable and awkward. Without a constant clamor of verbiage something is wrong. I understand that, and I also understand that as Thomas Carlyle said, we must learn both arts of speech and silence. For it is only when we stop listening with our outer ear that our inner hearing begins; when our outward looking sight fades, our inner vision finds clarity.
Jesus gave specific instructions when we pray - go into your room, close the door, and pray to God who is in secret. He was of course referring to the inner room of our consciousness, that inner citadel of protection.
There are many kinds of silence. There is the waiting silence of a stalking lion, anticipating the moment to spring into action. There is the silence of growth, love, and joy before our hearts laugh. But the deepest silence is where we commune with God. There the tired body and fatigued mind find rest, strength, and renewal. In the silence is love for the lonely heart and light for the burdened soul. The quiet of prayer is a holy place, a place of peace, stillness, openness, expectancy, and empowerment. It is in the silence that we feel God loving us, and enfolded in light.
Prayer is our personal means of communication with Spirit. Yet communication is more than simply one side doing all the talking and the other side doing all the listening. If we desire a robust dialog with our God, it involves a two-party participation. When we pray, we are the ones who have initiated the conversation with God. After praying, it is prudent and polite to become quiet and listen for God’s response. That response will most clearly be heard in silence, as we eliminate all the hustle-bustle of our active human lives and turn inward. The more successful we are at finding our inner place of solitude, undisturbed by the outer senses, the more clearly we will feel God’s Presence and guidance.
The listening aspect of this communication is referred to as meditation or ‘waiting on the Lord.’ It is entering into a still and quiet mental and physical state in order to connect directly with God. Moving into the Silence is perhaps our most holy time with our God. It is when we consciously open our hearts and minds to the Divine Presence, seeking response to our prayers. Seeking inner stillness may be the most rewarding journey we can make spiritually. It is where we fully capture and experience the peace, joy, love, and strength of God.
For years I would pray and never really felt that God was there at all. I felt like I was doing all the talking, and that was the truth. I would say my prayers and then off I would go with my activities. I felt like I was doing what I should do, but it felt incomplete and unproductive. Not until later, did I realize that I was only engaged in a monologue, rather than a dialogue with God.
I was too stressed, too active, too busy, too noisy to listen, let alone hear what God had to tell me. It’s like trying to share something on your mind with someone who just never stops talking. You never have the opportunity to start a sentence, and if you do, they are so focused on what they want to say next that they don’t hear what you have to say even if you blurt it out.
It is in the Silence, when we stop praying, stop mentally speaking to God, that we release our ego, our wants, our words, and thoughts, and listen quietly and attentively for that still small voice of God - the whisper of life, the gentle tugging and prodding of God’s guidance.
God is always ready to communicate, we just need to initiate the communication, and be ready and open to the answers. All of God’s guidance, inspiration, and divine ideas are there for us. We simply have to be still, be receptive and quiet, and then listen.
Meditation is listening to God; the opposite of prayer. It is not mysterious or sinister. It is not complicated. In fact, anyone who has had conscious guidance from God has received it through some sort of meditative state. Like praying, meditation requires some practice. We need to learn how to still our bodies and our minds to receive and experience what God has to offer.
Many of you already meditate in some fashion. Some of you simply go into nature and experience the quiet and become receptive. I’d like to share a very simple technique I learned years ago to help us move into the Silence in a way that prepares us to receive God’s communication. It is called Hong-Sau. It is an ancient Yoga technique that helps still our minds and bodies. Hong-Sau is Sanskrit for “I am He,” or “I am Spirit,” or “I am that.” It helps reduce our small ego consciousness and develops our oneness with the Christ within. You can use this technique at anytime: formally, at specific times during the day, or informally, spontaneously during the day.
Here is how it is done. Begin by taking a long slow deep breath. When the breath begins to flow again, begin to observe its movement, without any attempt to control it. Notice the place where you can observe the breath in your body whether in the lungs, in the nostrils, or sinuses. Be an impartial observer, not caring whether it flows in or out or remains stationary. Simply remain attentive to whatever the breath does by itself, naturally.
Follow the inhalation with the syllable Hong (pronounced to rhyme with song) and the exhalation with the syllable Sau (pronounced like saw). Repeat the phrase mentally only, being aware not to move the lips or tongue.
As your practice deepens, begin to enjoy the pauses between the inhalations and the exhalations, when the breath is not flowing. Do not actively hold the breath in or out, just be at peace in the spaces between breaths. It is in the quiet of that stillness that you know you are one with Spirit. As many times as your mind wanders away from Hong-Sau, bring it gently back to the technique.
When we become agitated mentally or emotionally, this is an excellent technique to regain composure. Much like repeating the word ‘Love’ or ‘Light’, the Hong-Sau breathing technique can bring calm and composure.
Finding time in the Silence is favorable to all areas of our lives. Research has shown the spending time in silence can have positive health benefits in terms of reducing blood pressure, increasing oxygen intake, relaxing the nerves, raising energy levels, boosting the immune system, reducing blood cortisol, promoting hormone regulation and shrinking arterial plaque formation. Psychological benefits of silence can include enhanced creativity, focus, self control, self awareness, perspective and spirituality.
But most important is the spiritual benefit of a closer and more vibrant relationship with God. Silence helps us become aware of Christ within us. So, it is my prayer that we seek the stillness and silence and be comfortable there. I pray we can embrace the quiet of Spirit and contemplate the Truth that Christ whispers to us. I pray we expectantly turn within and remember the words of Isaiah 30:15 “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”