Awakening: "Contemplative Listening"

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.

Over the past five weeks we have explored the contemplative practices of solitude and silence with articles relating to personal solitude, solitude together in Christian community, solitude in the world, hearing silence, and listening to sheer silence. This week we finish our series with contemplative silence.

Contemplative Silence1

Silence makes it possible to hear God, thus to know God in a deeper manner. So, with Karl Rahner we seek to…

“Allow the silence to speak of God”

Karl Rahner, The Mystical Way in Everyday Life, p.10

This is of great importance to all Christians and especially for those who are being called to be spiritual directors or directees. God is not hiding silently but is present in the silence.

“God is present, and His thought is alive and awake in the fullness and depth and breadth of all the silences of the world.”

Thomas Merton, On Christian Contemplation, pg. 41

Remember that contemplative silence opens our hearts to a deeper more profound experience of God in our lives. These personal experiences then make it more likely that we will be able to help ourselves and other people as we seek deeper experiences of God’s presence in our lives.

"Silence is beautiful, And contemplative silence-–the silence to which we lovingly attend in the name of the sacred mystery we call God---is the most beautiful silence of all”

Carl McColman, Answering the Contemplative Call, pg. 91

It is important to know that this silence of which we speak is not synonymous with isolation, absence of all sound, a vacuum, or passivity. Michael R. Nichols writes, “Listening well is often silent but never passive” (The Lost art of Listening, pg. 113). This silence is not necessarily achieved alone in a monastery, or in a faraway place, although it may be for some. The point of contemplative listening is to hear the sound of sheer silence that brings us into an ever deepening awareness of God’s presence. Although this silence is most often cultivated within an atmosphere of outer silence the true goal is that of inner silence. Thus, this silence can occur within the context of creativity, nature, music, dance, writing or any number of activities that bring us into a deeper awareness of God’s presence in the moment. David Steindl-Rast, when speaking of silence in the monastery, and in my view all silence, writes;

“Yet, monastic silence does not consist in the elimination of words, the elimination of noise. This process of elimination leads, at best, to the hush of a public library or of a morgue. Monastic silence is not dead silence, it is alive with the presence of mystery like the silence of a deep forest”

Steindl-Rast, A Listening Heart, pg. 80

The real desire is to silence anything that distracts us from the sound of God. However, it is not us who do the silencing or choose the things to be silenced. God does the silencing. It is our job to just keep listening. Granted this discipline/gift needs to be cultivated and practiced but be sure that we cannot create the kind of silence by which we hear God, only God can grace us with this ability. All we need do is be open to God’s guidance, which will become clearer as we place ourselves at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are simply to be open, non-defensive, non-judgmental, and in the moment as God reveals ways for us to enter into divine silence. This is a paradox; God leads us into silence so we can better hear God speak in the sheer silence. Our part is to be listening. Then when God reveals ways for us to hear divine silence we then practice those ways. For example, as you intentionally listen for God in your life you may find that nature (or art, music etc.) is where the sound of God’s sheer silence, for you, is best heard. When this occurs we then begin to intentionally incorporate more nature into your life. Gerald May, calls this silence “the power of the slowing” in his book, “The Wisdom of Wilderness.” He refers to it as “wanting to gently enter gentleness” (pg. 16). And then later, on pg. 19, he says…

“I feel it within me, inside my very muscles, yet it seems to come from somewhere outside me. It is not me, yet it is rising from the deepest part of me. It is powerful, as if a great gentle hand has taken my arms and legs and simply stilled them, and a sweet irresistible voice is speaking in my belly, ‘Be still now.’ It’s not a real voice, not actual hearing, but the message is clear; no rush, no need to do anything, just be.”

These are times when we are blessed to hear God’s gentle voice, the sound of sheer silence. The goal is not for us to determine how we will hear God; that is up to God. That being said, we must become quiet, and still enough to listen for God’s gentle voice. This usually comes by spending time in a sacred place, a place of outer quiet, sitting still, patiently waiting for God to speak and to guide us.

Five helpful predispositions for inner silence…

1. Rest: with no need to impose ourselves upon the silence.

2. Wait: allowing God to move rather than us to be pressing.

3. Behold: becoming vulnerable, letting go of any control by being fully open to whatever we may hear; ready to allow what we hear to change us in some manner.

4. Not-knowing: without any imposition from our own pool of knowledge. A position of being willing and open to learn and experience new and mysterious things.

5. Trust: trusting that God knows better than we do and trusting that God will reveal what needs to be revealed in the spiritual direction session.

Something to consider…

How might we consider the spiritual direction session as sacred ground for contemplative silence?

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

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