And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. – 1 Kings 19:11-12
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, – Matthew 14:23
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal, Pensees
Like any other Christian practice, silence and solitude requires endurance and training. Stopping our work, whether it be school, job, spending time with friends, or the cultivation of a fantastic ‘online persona’, is a difficult and wonderful work. Stillness allows us to cultivate an inner quiet that provides space for hearing the ‘still small voice of god’.
Often, we prefer to find God in the phenomenal, the ‘mountain top’ experiences, visions, dreams, etc… because we believe, for some reason, these experiences are more ‘real’. Truth be told, we will likely count these experiences as a small portion of actual communion with God. In fact, God speaks in the ordinary hum drum of every day. It is this truth that demands a practice of stillness.
The practice of silence fosters our ability to practice the present moment. It teaches us to live in the ‘real world’ instead of the imagined worlds of our future or the perceived worlds of our past. God does not speak to us in our imagined worlds, he speaks to us here and now in the present. Silence opens us to the ability to commune with a living God that is always speaking. It creates a posture of listening that allows us to quiet the voices in our own heads in order to hear the voice of our true head Jesus Christ.
But practicing stillness is difficult because we have cultivated patterns of living that make it hard to be present to the here and now. Often, when we stop our perpetual motion it’s as if the voices (thoughts), the personal criticisms, the criticisms of others, the to do lists, and the shoulds and oughts get louder. We struggle with silence because we don’t like who we are when all the activity ceases. But the solution to this inner turmoil is not resistance but surrender.
Taking the time to be alone and silent before a loving God is our way of reminding our bodies and souls that in the midst of any storm or fear, or trial, God is there. Lying just beyond any storm is the peaceful clear blue sky. Silence is the practice of moving beyond the stormy clouds of life to find the calm blue sky where God waits to speak. Stillness teaches us that in the midst of our internal storms, God is there waiting to speak with a ‘still small voice’. He is there to speak words of peace, of acceptance, of love.
Practice – Breath Prayer
I spend 20 minutes a day, at least, cultivating a posture of stillness so that I can ‘be still and know that He is God’. It takes time to learn how to be silent. Here is one way I use to cultivate a practice of silence.
- Find a place where you can be comfortable, alone, and free from disturbance.
- Either find a comfortable chair (or log), or spot on the ground to sit with your legs crossed. A good posture helps the body from becoming fatigued as you sit in stillness.
- Begin by taking 10 good full breaths, breathing in through your nose and blowing out through your mouth.
- On your last big breath out, gently close your eyes and begin to notice. Notice the weight of your body sitting in the chair or on the ground. Notice the sounds around you. Notice the air on your face.
- Gently begin to scan your body, beginning at the head moving to your feet. Notice the comfortable parts of your body, notice the uncomfortable spots. Take your time paying attention to the small things too, your fingers, your toes, your nose, your lips.
- Notice the feelings you are currently experiencing, the big categories of happy, mad, glad, sad, nervous, afraid. Are you anxious? Are you agitated? Are you content?
- Now turn your attention to your breath, feel the weight of your body as your chest expands when you breathe in and contracts as you breathe out.
- As you continue to breathe, on the in breath pray silently; “Lord Jesus Christ” and as you exhale pray silently; “Have Mercy on Me”. Repeat this with each breath; “(inhale)Lord Jesus Christ, (exhale) have mercy on me”.
- Allow this rhythm to continue on each breath. As you repeat this phrase over and over while you breathe, allow it to become part of you, almost as if you are no longer praying but your prayer is as normal as a breath.
- Try to continue this practice for 5 minutes. And see if you can add this to a daily routine you have, either at the start of a day or at the end of the day.
**NB: You will get distracted. That is guaranteed. When you notice that your mind has wandered to something else, just notice it and silently say ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’, ‘hearing’, and bring your attention back to your breath and that breath prayer.