My last reflection [which may be read HERE] ended where this one will pick up, with the importance of silence in the spiritual life of the Christian. Our spiritual healing in Christ requires that we honestly face our true selves, with all of our sins and shortcomings. We have to see the ‘ME’ that we find repulsive; we have to claim as our own the evils that we commit and even enjoy [more on this in the next reflection, ‘A Deeper Repentance’]. St. Isaac the Syrian tells us that our lives are given to us for repentance – but before we can truly repent we must be able to see our sins. We can’t repent only on a surface level. To go beneath the surface, to break through the protective facades we erect around our hearts, we need to explore silence.

First, a few quotes from the Fathers of the Church on the importance of silence:
-“True wisdom is gazing at God. Gazing at God is silence of the thoughts. Stillness of mind is tranquillity which comes from discernment.” -St Isaac the Syrian
-John the Solitary in On Prayer: “For God is silence, and in silence is he sung by means of that psalmody which is worthy of Him. I am not speaking of the silence of the tongue, for if someone merely keeps his tongue silent, without knowing how to sing in mind and spirit, then he is simply unoccupied and becomes filled with evil thoughts: … There is a silence of the tongue, there is a silence of the whole body, there is a silence of the soul, there is the silence of the mind, and there is the silence of the spirit.”
-Abbot Vasilios of Iveron Monastery in Hymn of Entry: “…By receiving a new sense of taste and a new form of knowledge in ‘stillness’ and in giving himself over to God totally. Be still and know. Be still: remain in a state of spiritual wakefulness, with your prospects and your senses open, to hear what God’s will is at each moment.”

On a daily basis we find ourselves constantly attacked with ideas: ideas that come from within our own minds, ideas that come as temptations from the demons, and ideas that come to us from the outside (from exterior stimuli, like TV or advertisements or even conversations with others). To find and then explore our heart (our true selves), we have to quiet these distracting ideas, no matter what their source. As our above quotes reveal, silence is not simply an exterior quiet, but also an interior stillness. This is not something we can just sit down and do – learning to bring our bodies, souls, and minds to stillness takes some training. As with prayer and other efforts in Christ, there is an order.

The first step is finding some exterior silence. The mature Christian can carry on in the hustle and bustle of daily living and maintain interior quiet, but those of us who are beginners will require a lot of practice before we are able to do that. Since we are psychosomatic beings (consisting of a soul and body working together and influencing one another), those things which affect our bodies also affect our souls. In order to begin seeking interior silence, find exterior quiet first. Once we begin spending time in quiet, separated from the distractions of the world, we’ll finally begin to hear our minds and our souls.

While we’re learning to be alone with ourselves and God, it is especially helpful to occupy ourselves with prayer. Otherwise, we’ll soon be distracted by our thoughts, remembering things we need to do, or want to do, or other thoughts pertaining to activities we’d like to be doing instead of spending time in quiet meditation. Prayer will help keep our thoughts at least partially under control, until we’re ready to begin dealing with these thoughts that arise. Pray as it suits you best – Psalms, written prayers, extemporaneous prayer – many people find the simplicity of the Jesus Prayer to be exceedingly helpful in quieting the thoughts. It is also necessary to pray for assistance in the work we’re undertaking – we need help from our Lord to quiet our thoughts and to see our sins and to come to a point of repentance for those times we’ve separated ourselves from God.

As we experience silence in prayer with our Christ, the thoughts that we actually need to address will begin to arise. Here’s where we must use discernment – those thoughts that come as distractions must be passed over and ignored, thinking on these things will only be a waste of our time. There will be other thoughts that need our attention – we’ll remember our sins, situations where we need to seek God’s wisdom, people we need to intercede for – as we explore the silence, we’ll begin to more clearly see who we are today.

Running around in the world, we’re able to suppress many of the unpleasant things about ourselves that we need to deal with in order to be healthy in Christ. If we are truly lovers of God, if we honestly want the peace that He provides both in this life and beyond this world, we must begin going deep inside ourselves and cleaning out the gutters. The Fathers teach us that true knowledge of ourselves is the greatest miracle, because it is the miracle of raising one (ourselves) from the dead.

There’s obviously much more that can be said about silence in the life of the Christian, much deeper we can go than can be explored in this reflection, so we’ll have a taste of this depth in a final quote:
“Man, the greatest of all God’s creatures, [is] called to enter into direct and unmediated communion with God, even from this present life. The chief manner by which this is achieved is though the grace of God and noetic prayer, that is, through the prayer of the heart, also known as the Jesus prayer,” or the way of stillness (hesychia). -Dr. Christopher Veniamin

May God guide and strengthen us all in this work!

The next few reflections will look at dealing with the thoughts that arise in the silence which demand our attention – “A Deeper Repentance” and “Remembrance of Wrongs”