Silent Prayer as a Practice: Why?
After my last post, I received a message on Facebook asking for clarity regarding what I mean when I use the term Silent Prayer; “is it just not speaking or is it also quieting your thoughts?” I’m hoping begin answering that with this post. Before I do though, something else they wrote really moved me, “The things you write always seem to resonate on this level like it's something my heart knew all along as an ancient, intrinsic Truth, but needs constant reminding.” Thank you, Kimberly! That’s exactly how I feel about Silent Prayer, Contemplative Christianity, and the reality of our identity as ones made in God’s image. Confirmation is a sweet, sweet refreshment for my soul.
When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. … And when you pray, do not keep on babbling…
– Jesus, Matthew 6:6-8
From my observation, it seems that Scripture is full of outstanding depictions of what a life or society in relationship with God finally looks like, epitomized in the life of Jesus and the early Church recorded in the book of Acts. We are given fantastic glimpses into the transformative union of God and person along with the qualities of character that are or are not there.
Oddly though, the spiritual disciplines and practices needed for the journey there seem to be, for the most part, lacking. It’s my belief that the beauty behind this Scriptural absence is it allows the seeker to intimately and creatively seek out; “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:27)
It is in the deeply personal and intimate activity of Seeking that our identity and character are discovered, recovered, and refined. What a wonder! It isn't in seeking ourselves that this happens, but in our seeking Another! The process of seeking is also where a life of Relationship lives; not in finding, but in seeking.
If I think I’ve found all that there is to discover about God, or about my wife Shawna for that matter, then I no longer look to them with intent eyes, hear them with listening ears, or feel them with any great desire for them. I’d believe to have figured them out, so the immense effort required for truly listening, seeing, and feeling would deteriorate; this begets insensitivity and apathy and objectifies the One whom we are in a relationship with. God is an infinite mystery, which facilitates infinite relationship; and this same truth applies to each of us, who are all made in God’s own image.
Silent Prayer is a practice of quieting down our mind’s thoughts, ideas, and definitions for God and ourselves. Too often, we keep on babbling in prayer to our idea of God out of an idea of ourselves. Any idea is limited and therefore flawed. We act and pray as if our acting and prayer could make a Good God act somehow better on our behalves. This is a painful and cancerous theology that generally resides in a believer's subconscious.
Silencing our bodies, minds, and hearts allows God to be God and us to be us, together. It takes immense trust and discipline to pray this way. Subconscious fear (which is never from God) starts making its way to the surface: What if I don’t “feel” God? What if I can’t silence my mind? What if my feelings and hurts overwhelm me? What if I think that thought? When we’ve actually practiced and realized Silent Prayer, we see with how little trust we’ve prayed in the past. Our prayers have centered on our temporal circumstances rather than the abiding presence of Christ in all and through all.
I will continue clarifying Silent Prayer in upcoming posts, but to conclude this really long one: Silent Prayer is a practice of being with God as God is with us. This repairs our mistakenly placing too much value in our own understanding, forfeiting a Peace and Love greater than us by vainly (yet, innocently) attempting to reduce it to our level of understanding.
Grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
– Ephesians 3.18&19