For years I’ve been trying to master the art of silent prayer. Sometimes my attempts find me staring at my shoes, thinking about the work I need to be doing. Other times, when I approach prayer with an open heart, I can feel my life, attitude, and perspective changing with every second I keep my eyes closed.
Silence is difficult. It’s confusing. What, exactly, is supposed to happen while sitting for long, potentially awkward periods of time? I’m still not confident about my answer, but I can share some of my experiences.
Enough Is Enough
First, every time I enter into silent prayer it takes quite a while to get situated. I’m thinking about the endless number of tasks that need to be done at my job and my apartment. Moreover, I have special projects, blog posts, videos, and, most importantly, people I need to connect with throughout the day. My mind never shuts off, unless I put my foot down and say, Enough is enough. Entering into silent prayer takes work. It takes discipline and courage to cut through all the little things that distract our minds and hearts to arrive at a sacred and productive silence.
I have some good days and I have some terrible days when I attempt to enter into silent prayer. However, the more I try, the better I get.
I Am Not in Charge
When I’m at my best in silent prayer, I get an overwhelming feeling that I am not in charge. While that sounds cliché, it seems to me that this simple mindset is the remedy to my stress, heartache, and anxiety. Day to day I get tricked into believing that my daily tasks, obstacles, and struggles are bigger than they are. Some days I even feel cheated that people don’t recognize them or validate them, but my prayer puts things into the proper perspective. I get a profound sense that God is in charge and that life is mysterious. And no matter what struggles come my way, God has a way to redeem them. I like to think that I trust God, but silence helps me to live that trust.
God isn’t some “thing” we can quantify; God is mystery. Silence is one of the most profound ways to dive deeper into the mystery that is God. I’ve grown to appreciate this idea through St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. For 30 weeks I was asked to sit in silence for one hour a day while using my imagination to contemplate the Scriptures. I was hesitant at first, but it made sense that if God worked through all things (a very basic and popular Ignatian concept), God certainly worked through my imagination.
It was then that I realized the true beauty of silent prayer. Every week I was given a set of Bible verses to contemplate. More than that, I was asked to imagine myself within the Bible stories. It was there that I “met” God for the first time. He revealed himself to me in a number of creative ways that made me seek God more, ways that fueled my desire to know God more deeply.
Ironically, my silent prayer was incredibly loud, interactive, and engaging. It was also emotional and intimate. The silence allowed God to speak to my heart in mysterious ways. Through those 30 weeks of the Spiritual Exercises, I interacted with God in ways that I never thought possible. We shared intimate moments and furthered our relationship. In my Scripture contemplations, Jesus treated me as one of his disciples and entrusted me with tasks to further his mission. He trusted me. He embraced me. He stuck up for me. He loved me. The silence was a sacred space for me to be with Jesus.
For me, this is the power of silent prayer: it creates a deeper relationship with an infinite and mysterious God. It takes us down a path that ultimately leads to a deep friendship.
Today in 31 Days with St. Ignatius, read A Lesson in Human Dignity at a Paris Bistro.