Awakening: Listening to Sheer Silence

Hi Everyone, I pray blessings upon you, that you are experiencing the presence of God in every moment of your days. Now is a good time to be still and let God speak in your heart.

This week we continue to explore solitude and silence in the contemplative life. In week one, we considered personal solitude, week two solitude together in Christian community, and week three we considered solitude in the world. In week four we began to look at three aspects of silence beginning with hearing silence. This week we consider what it means to go beyond hearing to listening to sheer silence.

Listening to Sheer Silence1

He (The Lord) said (to Elijah), "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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 a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" NRS

1 Kings 19:11-13

Silence creates space around things and people. The space is then filled by the breath of God, the Holy Spirit. It is in this space that revelation occurs. It is in this sacred silent space that we can rest in God’s mystical creative presence all around us. Remember it was out of sheer silence that God spoke to Elijah and it was out of sheer silence that God created all things.

Silence reminds us that out of it came all that is. Silence is God’s first language. The Word was silent before being spoken. The Word became flesh out of sheer silence.

Silence allows us to appreciate the uniqueness of the things and people around us. Too often we allow the inner and the outer chatter to distract us from the unique person, and the unrepeatable moments, that stand before our very eyes. Every moment is a unique gift of God, as is every person. It behooves us to savor the unique creation and moments that God is blessing us with in multitudes impossible to imagine.

Silence reminds our hearts to listen. Silence is not a head thing, silence is a heart thing. To the analytical mind silence is a waste of time, but to the heart silence is expansive and healing. Listening to silence intimately connects us to all that is.

In the silence we can tune our ear, hearing as if it was thunder, the harmony of God’s love, and the grace notes that are coming forth every moment, just waiting for us to become aware. The sheep learn to hear the Lord’s voice when they become silent, thus predisposing themselves to contemplative listening.

Silence gives us the ability to empty ourselves into that from which all creation has come forth; thus giving us the gift of being aware of Holy Spirit movements in us and all around us. Can you see the value of this for the spiritual director?

I firmly believe that a cycle of proper sleep and Sabbath are absolutely necessary for one to develop the ability to hear God in the silence. It was after the silence of sleep that Jacob became aware of God’s presence.

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place-- and I did not know it!" NRS

Genesis 28:16

The silence of sleep becomes a training ground for hearts and minds to hear God. Maybe this is part of the reason why people today have such a difficult time with silence. Not enough sleep and avoidance of Sabbath rest. A good practice to develop silence that allows for contemplative listening is to wake up slowly after a good night of rest. As you wake keep your eyes closed. Allow yourself to savor the moments between sleep and awakening. In this you also begin to get in touch with the awakening of your spirit and a deeper awareness of God’s presence. As such silence, contemplative listening, and an awakening to God’s presence converge as you realize yourself barefoot on sacred timeless ground. We become more and more aware of the voice of God in the silence of the present timeless moment.

“And so we find that in time there is only the seam between a past that is no more and a future that is not yet; and the now is not in time at all”

David Stendl-Rast,

A Listening Heart, pg. 22

In spiritual direction, in fact in every relationship, silence is a gift we can give one another. It shows respect for the other person, as we offer ourselves to hearing God who hears the other person perfectly in the moment. In silence we can hear the breath of heaven in all creation. Because silence at its core is relational, by its very nature it is others focused. Thus silence carries with it a profound sense of humility. In fact, silence acting as an incubator for contemplative listening is quite often a profound demonstration of humility as we let go of our own ego and become free of our own agenda so as to be present and attentive to God and to other people.

“Interior silence is impossible without mercy and without humility."

Thomas Merton,

Thoughts in Solitude, p. 70

1 Excerpted from The Awakening Institutes five week study on Contemplative Listening. For more details and a free syllabus feel free to email… ,

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