Silence isn’t empty
It’s full of answers.
It often amazes me when Jim and I find that we are studying similar lessons; Jim through his Diaconate readings and me through my Oblate ones. This week, we are both reading about prayer and finding that uninterrupted time with God. Not only are we both studying the same topic, but I have found myself bumping into the same thought over and over, in various writings and by different authors.
Life is full of distractions. Even at Mass this morning, I found my mind wandering and had to continually bring myself back to what was happening at any particular moment. This is totally on me because I always find Father Robert to be very engaging with his homilies and usually leave feeling like I have “homework”…lol.
Distractions. They can be environmental or internal. If they are environmental and we are in a public place, such as Mass, there is little you can do to stop them from occurring. It takes a great deal of concentration and discipline to block out the sights, sounds, smells…whatever the distraction might be. If we are at home, hopefully we can change our environment to suite our needs. If we are praying, for example, sitting in a recliner, feet up and television on, is probably not the ideal situation.
But what about distractions that come from within? Our minds are like a racecar, circling a track, going faster and faster. How do we get our minds to slow down…to stop…to be still? I would imagine that answer lies, as so many things do, in practice. To sit alone, in silence and be comfortable with it…it doesn’t seem natural to us at first. There is always a television or stereo going. Think about the stores you go to…do we really need music playing in the background? The other day, I was picking up a prescription at a local grocery store and Rock and Roll All Night by KISS was blaring through the store. Now, I’ve been known to crank up KISS back in my day, but do I really need to hear it while I’m shopping?
My Oblate advisor, Br. Stanley, wrote these words to me this week, after I turned in one of my lessons. He said, “I like what Fr. Michael Casey, OSCO, suggests about staying focused in prayer: commit to memory a line from scripture or a hymn’s verse that, when your thoughts drift away from prayer, you can recite that line and refocus your attention on God. The line I use is: Attende, Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi – “Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy on us, for we have sinned against you.” It is a verse from a Lenten hymn I used to sing in Latin class in the high school seminary. When I chant that to myself in the present moment, I am brought back to myself…and to God.”
One of the books that Jim is reading for his Diaconate studies is Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird. In his book, Laird says to call ourselves back by using a prayer word. He says, “We will find that our attention is forever being stolen. As soon as we are aware that our attention has been stolen by some thought, we gently bring ourselves back to the prayer word…we don’t reflect upon the meaning to the prayer word or phrase…we simply repeat it.”
I have one that I use…a phrase that is. It’s one that we start our Liturgy of the Hours with and it really helps me to focus. I say, “God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me.” (Psalm 69) I have a friend that says, Abba Father, to bring her into focus. Whatever the word or phrase, it will only work if you put it into practice. I had to repeat mine over and over this morning…and after a while, I did settle in and focus.
I find I use it the most when I trying to be still and be with God. It’s so easy for our minds to drift away in the silence. I try to patient with myself and repeat the phrase as often as I need to. I make sure there are no external distractions so I can work on stilling my mind and spirit, to listen to God.
For this new year, this is my goal. Television, games on my phone and secular reading…it’s all being put aside to focus on the most important relationship in my life. More time for study, more time for contemplation, more time for Jim and I to talk about what we are learning. And more time to just be in the silence.
Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. I Kings 19:11-12
Silence is not an absence of sound but rather a shifting of attention
toward sounds that speak to the soul. -Thomas Moore