About silence and prayer

In a glorious post on her blog A Seat At The Table, Claire Bangasser quotes Anthony de Mello quoting Thomas Merton quoting an anonymous Syrian monk (St Isaac?):

If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance… In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then there is born something that draws us to silence… If only you practice this, untold light will dawn on you in consequence… after a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.

Silence is the deepest refuge the heart can discover this side of death. William Penn wrote in 1699, “True silence … is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” (Quaker Faith & Practice 2.13). John Bellows, in 1895 (QFP 2.15), wrote:

I know of no other way, in these deeper depths, of trusting in the name of the Lord, and staying upon God, than sinking into silence and nothingness before Him… So long as the enemy can keep us reasoning he can buffet us to and fro; but into the true solemn silence of the soul before God he cannot follow us.

I have found myself longing for silence like one longs for cold water on a long and dusty walk in the height of summer, when the path shimmers in sunlight, and the flies glitter beside the way. To be still and quiet, under the heart’s trees, is to touch the growing point of God’s love, the very place he comes to meet us, which we know as Christ.

This is why the Jesus Prayer is such a clear and present doorway into silence. Irma Zaleski writes:

This fundamental aloneness of the human being before the face of God is very difficult for many of us to accept. We often associate it with loneliness, with lack of love and rejection, even with death… We hardly ever feel comfortable with silence.

…We are never still. We forget, or perhaps we have never learned, that although we can never break down the walls of our aloneness ourselves, God certainly can. Our aloneness – our separateness – is not a prison in which we must remain forever, but a door to communion: with God, but also with the whole universe. For God brings with him every human being who has ever lived.

Praying the Jesus Prayer can become such a door for us. By praying it simply, standing alone and totally open and real before the face of Christ, we become aware of the great silence – the holy silence – at the heart of our being… By repeating the Name of Jesus over and over again, by patiently putting away from us all distractions, all our own thoughts and feelings, our minds become emptied, purified, ready to receive the gift of silence, the gift of being still.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…


One thought on “About silence and prayer

  1. elizabeth dixon

    Thanks so much for reminding me of this special prayer … will make sure it’s back as a ‘favourite’, Ex


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