Silence, or even quiet, is a hard thing to find these days. If you are trying to cultivate more of it in your life in order to find out what lies beneath all the hubbub, you have your work cut out for you. One of the few benefits of being chronically ill and unable to have a job is that I have time, and I have some precious stillness. I think it is impossible to enjoy silence unless you are still, and probably vice versa as well. If you cannot still or quiet your own mind or worries, or even keep your own body still, you are not going to experience real depth in silence or anything else. And if you have noise all around you, it is going to be very hard to become truly still.
Both are needed for some kinds of God-encounter. I believe after practising contemplative, centring and listening prayer for fifteen years, that it is very much worth the effort. And to begin with, it is hard. We have a lot of barking dogs, boisterous neighbours and traffic where we live, so quiet is a delicious relief when it comes. I’ve needed to create artificial silence using earplugs, and learnt to keep my body in a comfortable position where it is not going to constantly distract me. I used to be able to use a prayer stool for this, but my health has deteriorated, and I now have to pray sitting up in bed.
There are always going to be distractions of course, there are worries and to-do lists and spouses and children and there are aches and pains and that awful nagging guilt that you should be doing something useful, rather that sitting in stillness and silence with the maker of the universe. But in truth I’m not sure that you could find anything more useful to do with any sliver of your time.
Before we truly begin to listen, to see and hear, in encounter with God, these two things need to become part of our routine. Until they are, life is just a constant stream of chatter, chores and pressure. Yes, as we have already talked about, we can encounter God and be in his presence in all activities, but there is also a need for what we might call “quality time” with God if we want the relationship to grow, and indeed I think out of this flows the ability to reside in him at all other times.
Carving out time and giving him our full attention requires some discipline, but there is no better way to begin to resonate with the frequency of that still, small voice. The gentle whisper of God needs us to be listening and focussed. This is, of course extremely difficult for parents or carers of young or disabled children, who take up every waking moment. I think God gives special dispensation where it is needed, pouring out his grace upon us. But determination and desire does pay off. Susanna Wesley (mother of Charles and John) used to take a few minutes to pray, putting her apron over her head. When the children saw the apron was up, they knew to give her that time.
I started with five minutes a day, and gradually wanted more and more. Never once have I thought, I wish I hadn’t bothered sitting with God today, I could have got so much else done! Of course, the point of this series is to help us understand that there is a multitude of ways to pray and to encounter God, but to “be still and know that I am God,” that is, in my opinion, the best starting place.
Text and artwork © by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt