Australian poet, Kevin Hart, wrote these lines in his poem Jerusalem:
They say that silence leads us here,
That we are lead
As if by the hand, wind running fingers through the dust;
Inside, the silence
Will take you by the hand…
Now feel this stillness Jerusalem.
“Let silence take you by the hand”
Silence can help us to grow by reducing the overcrowding of the mind and enabling the heart to become centred in gentleness and peace. The practice of silence is, of course, inseparable from the discovery of one’s inner depths. The great spiritual guides call us to inner silence.
Meister Eckhart said that there is nothing in the world that resembles God so much as silence. Silence is a great friend of the soul; it unveils the riches of solitude. As we begin to befriend our inner silence we will notice the superficial chatter on the surface level of our minds. Once we recognise this, then the silence deepens.
Thomas Merton wrote: “Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty and solitude where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.”
As you sink into silence what happens? Thoughts start. Images start being born; then they disappear. Sometimes they work with the silence to deepen the understanding of silence. Sometimes they just dissolve until nothing but the silence is there. So sinking into silence is sinking through different layers of ignorance and illusion to that place of inner stillness.
Physical silence and stillness are not in themselves creative.
Silence can be a destructive and disturbing force. The negative silence of solitary imprisonment can crush the human being. There is a silence of hatred, a silence filled with fear and terror, a silence of the unknown. There is a silence so threatening that we make sure that all the gaps are filed with synthetic noise. Silence, as in Paul Simon’s song ‘The Sounds of Silence’, can grow like a cancer. As the spiritual writer, Pascal announced, ‘most of man’s troubles come from his not being able to sit quietly in his chamber.’
In Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 8, we find the woman in the Gospels who had sought healing for many years and who went to many doctors. She hears about Jesus. She has an inner knowing that this man has a touch of the Divine about him. She watches out for him and hears that he is coming her way. She doesn’t want to disturb him. She doesn’t want to interrupt him. All she wants to do as he passes is simply reach out and touch the hem of his garment. And she does so, Jesus turns and he says, “Who touched me?” She’s frightened and she says, “I touched you.” Jesus responds, “Your faith has made you whole.” In this story we see the presence and the prayer of this woman coming from a place of deep silence within her. Very few words passed between herself and Jesus. There seemed to be a silent mode of communication between them and that was enough.
If we are following the contemplative way of the Gathering Place, ‘setting pools of silence in this thirsty land’, we will be willing to learn how to be at home in silence. We will be willing to let it soak into our bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of our lives into a living and vigilant silence. From other wisdom figures we may glean even more. For example, Martin Buber lifts up silence as that which protects us against ‘the commotion.’ Religious orders and monastic communities built the practice of silence into their Rule of Life. Scripture also reminds us of the value of silence: “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Is.30:15)
There are no solutions to life, but there is an experience of wholeness, of bliss, of being, of silence in all its multifaceted diamond splendour that brings healing and leads to peace. “If only you knew on this day the things that are to you peace.” (Luke 19:42)
It is in that silence that Job gazed upon the beauty of the creation and exclaimed:
‘I am but dust and ashes. Do with me what you will.’
Then Job replied to Yahweh:
“My words have been frivolous: what can I reply?
I had better lay my hand over my mouth,
I have spoken once, I shall not speak again.
I have nothing more to say.” (Job 40:3-5)
The poet Rumi, from the Sufi tradition, offers these words for consideration:
All things begin and end in silence.
All things are born from silence…
Enough with questions!
Let silence take you to the core of life.
No more words: hear only the voice within.
Let silence take you by the hand…
Now feel this stillness...