I should clarify, that by silence, I mean outer and inner silence. No TV, music, iPods, ringing phones, no speaking, singing, humming, or pencil tapping.
Silence is one way to slow down, quiet that constant inner voice, and listen. After all, prayer is a two-way street. If your life is anything like mine, there is a constant juggling of kids, spouse, work, school, church, friends, chores, pets, exercise, sleep (at least rumor of it!), dealing with unexpected events... you get the picture. It can be hard enough to make time to pray without feeling rushed. How often to you make time to pay attention to the other side of the conversation?
Silence is a very deliberate, still, calmness. Silence is holy waiting. Silence is not easy.
Aside from how darn hard it can be to simply stop your mouth from making noise, silence has a way of catapulting people into the depths of themselves that they may not be very familiar with, very fond of, or very comfortable with. It may bring up distressful emotions, and it can make you feel profoundly alone.
How's that for a hard sell?
You'd think I'd tell you all about the wonderful benefits of silence before giving you the bad news, wouldn't you? I came in through the back door on this one because I want to make sure that you are not surprised if any of this happens to you, and to encourage you to stay with it and not run from it. Much of the time, these feelings pass if you can let yourself sit with them for awhile, and they can lead you into equally profound places of peace.
Our day-to-day intensely busy lives not only wear us out over time, but constant business also insulates us from emotion, anxiety and facing things about ourselves or our lives that we tend to avoid, but need to tend to. Spending any period of time in silence can create space for all of this baggage to make itself known.
The trick is to sit with those feelings and give them some attention. Journal, paint, run, (silently!) do what you do to validate those feelings, then let them rest. What you will find on the other side, is worth the struggle.
You will find that space where you can actually listen. Calmly, openly, authentically.
I practice silence in two basic ways. One is sitting quietly for a half hour or so after some other type of prayer. I may pray first for some thing I want help with, I may vent frustrations, I may intercede on behalf of someone else, or spend some time giving thanks, then let my own voice fall quiet and just listen. Another way is to do almost nothing more than say "hey" to God, and immediately move into listening mode. I don't ask for anything, confess anything, or gripe about anything. I just listen.
Try silence on for size by starting with 10-15 minutes. Work your way up to an hour or so of silence before bed. If you really want to throw yourself into it, spend a day in silence, or even two. One interesting variation of this is observing the Great (or Grand) Silence, where you remain quiet from about 9:00 in the evening (or after Compline for those of you who know about liturgical hours) until after breakfast the next morning.
Like anything, the more you practice silence, the faster you will be able to get into that deeper state of listening. Short periods of time are useful, but if you ever have the chance to be silent for a day, or a few days, give it a try. It will take you to some very interesting places.