. . . Divine silence might just be an expression of God’s preferred mode of interaction, and that we need not experience his silence as absence … if we live out our lives in the conviction that God is ever present with us, and if we seek something more like communion with God rather than just communication. [Michael Rea, Divine Hiddenness, Divine Silence].
Silencing our thoughts is not easy. Our intellect is always mumbling — muttering something, indistinctly yet loud enough to keeps us distracted, diverting us from the Divine.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “… whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should speak what is good or keep silent.” [Sahih al-Bukhari].
Often we hear ourselves explaining to others what we, ourselves, don’t really understand. Even more disgraceful is our intellectual efforts to convince ourselves of what we really don’t believe.
A (person) may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent; that is, he says nothing that is not profitable. [Abba Poemen, 27].
Immersed in our spiritual monologues and self-centered introspection, we forget what inner silence sounds like. Even while acknowledging our inability to comprehend, we continue quoting ourselves and rewording our shallow worldviews.
There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence. [John Calvin].
Humans have convinced themselves that the rational mode of expression is the highest form of communication. We reason that God should express Himself in our language of reason and logic. We even demand that He be available for examination and submit to our academic interrogation.
Hence, do not utter falsehoods by letting your tongues determine [at your own discretion], “This is lawful and that is forbidden,” thus attributing your own lying inventions to God: for, behold, they who attribute their own lying inventions to God will never attain to a happy state! [Quran 16:116].
Prayer is not a conversation you can dominate or monopolize. We must come to God in submission as obedient servants, dedicated devotees and diligent students. The hallowed space we enter when we surrender our will to our Lord echoes the Divine silence.
Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being, between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality. [Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, p. 83].
Amplifying the Divine Silence
By silencing our thoughts, we amplify the Divine silence that calls us to spiritual attentiveness. Dissonant thoughts become infused with pious apprehension as we muffle our mind and quiet our desires.
There is hardly ever a complete silence in our soul. God is whispering to us well-nigh incessantly. Whenever the sounds of the world die out in the soul, or sink low, then we hear these whisperings of God. He is always whispering to us, only we do not always hear, because of the noise, hurry, and distraction which life causes as it rushes on. [Frederick W. Faber, Spiritual Conferences, p. 408].
In mystical terms, Divine silence does not refer to the absence of God’s presence, nor to a silent or hidden God. It describes a sacred state which we cultivate to amplify our spiritual consciousness.
Divine silence is the medium in which communion is possible, it is the liquid in which our soul swims, the vacuum in which our spirit orbits.
We know well enough how to keep outward silence, and to hush our spoken words, but we know little of interior silence. It consists in hushing our idle, restless, wandering imagination, in quieting the promptings of our worldly minds, and in suppressing the crowd of unprofitable thoughts which excite and disturb the soul. [François Fénelon, Selections from Fénelon, p. 107].
When St. John of the Cross explains that “the knowledge of God is received in divine silence,” [St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, #26], he is not referring to the absence a response from God. He is describing the condition that prevails during Divine communion.
The spirit needs to be so free and so completely annihilated that any thought or meditation which the soul in this state might desire, or any pleasure to which it may conceive an attachment, would impede and disturb it and would introduce noise into the deep silence which it is meet that the soul should observe so that it may hear the deep and delicate voice of God which speaks to the heart in this secret place. [St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, Stanza 3].
Tuned In to Divine Silence
“Tuned in,” we respond to the signs of God by our conversion to Divine servitude, to holy obedience, to the natural order established by God and the essence of contemplative communion.
We need the prayers of words, yes; the words are the path to contemplation; but the deepest communion with God is beyond words, on the other side of silence. [Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water].
We have to listen carefully to hear the Divine silence. It is an intimate tranquility easily disturbed by the clamor of daily existence.
Immersed in Divine silence, we no longer hear clanging desires. Disengaged from profane phenomena, we are invited into the private chambers reserved for servants of God.
The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. [St. Teresa of Ávila, The Life of St. Teresa, p. 267].
Through the Divine silence that prevails in our longing heart, anxious thoughts become still and we begin to hear in accordance with the amplitude, pulse and frequency of Divine communion.
Real prayer is communion with God, so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours. What is needed is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts, and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him. [A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God].
These mystical moments of Divine silence are beyond our comprehension. However, when they recur, each is uniquely recognizable by the Divine signature that authenticates their broadcast.
This involuntary nature of the mystical experience highlights our submission, requiring that God remain our only path to true perception.
[God has said] … when I love him [devotee], then I shall be his ears with which he listens, his eyes with which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, and his hands with which he holds; if he calls Me, I shall answer him, and if he asks Me, I shall give him. [al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi].
- Michael Rea, Divine Hiddenness, Divine Silence
- Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness