Saturday, August 6, 2011

There's silence and there's silence

Ask most people what they mean by the word "prayer" and they will probably tell you it's talking to God. We are taught from the earliest age to "say our prayers" and our public liturgies are chock block full to the gunnels with wall to wall words. Some people, when asked to define prayer might give a different answer: talking with (rather than to) God or perhaps even listening to God. But listening to what or for what, exactly?

For some, silent prayer is an occasion for deep thought: perhaps a passage of scripture is thought about or an icon is observed, and worked over for the subtle messages it contains. This is of course another occasion for the use of words, albeit unvoiced ones. Sometimes silence is enforced on us, as in those times we must be without people to converse with, or sometimes silence is chosen, as when we go for a long walk in the countryside or take a few days on a silent retreat, and in these times our minds range freely, moving from one topic to another, and having the chance to come up with new perspectives or deal with old issues. What we find fruitful in these times of silence are often the illuminations or insights they give us; we come out of them with a message - from our subconscious or from God, and of course these are yet more words.

The silence of meditation is of another order. Rather than the free silence of a lonely walk or a silent vigil, it is an intentional silence, where words of any kind, inevitable though they are, are a distraction. The various meditation techniques are ways of dealing with and minimising the effect of these distractions. The reason for entering such an intentional silence is to encounter that which is beyond our words; that which any words -ANY words at all, even the most Holy - can never capture and must inevitably diminish.

1 comment:

  1. Although helpfully the NZ Prayer Book discusses meditation (very briefly) in the Catechism!