Today is the third day of retreat. In the midst of the silence, I have been thinking a lot about the silence.
Many priests and members of Religious communities spent long hours, days even, in silence. It was known that silence and stillness were essential if one was to grow in relationship with God. But very often people were not helped to see exactly why this was the case, or what do do or not do in and with the silence.
Perhaps our difficulty with silence has a lot to do with our difficulty with prayer.
We tend to think that prayer will help us to feel better. However this is not the initial and primary goal of prayer. Prayer is primarily about engagement with reality.
For most of us, much of the time, our reality is not simple peace and joy. We spend many days struggling to meet the demands that are made of us. At the end of the day, with many important tasks incomplete and issues unresolved, we fall into bed exhausted. Then the following day we get up to repeat the pattern.
If we take time to be still and silent in the midst of these struggles, we will initially become even more aware of our struggles. We will remember the people we find difficult or the important matters we completely forgot about. To add to this we may feel anger at the one who hurt us this morning, or twenty years ago. This is the initial stage of every prayer. We are becoming aware of our reality.
And a part of this reality is always our sin. Like St. Paul we find ourselves remember the things we should have done but did not do. And the things that we should not have done, but did do. In sin, we settle for things that fail to deliver the happiness they promise. We forget that only God is able to meet the needs of the human heart.
And the wonderful thing about this initial stage of every prayer, is that we know anew our need for God. We remember not just in our thoughts but in our bodies, that we need the strength and energy of God. We know again, not just in our words but in our desires, that we often feel alone. In our souls we know again the shame of our sin, And in our hearts we know anew that (with St. Augustine) we are created by God and for God. And our hearts are restless until God satisfies us.
Now God helps us to see that the happiness we seek is not our achievement. This is gift from God.
In this prayerful stillness and silence that began with struggle, we can relax and know that God is with us. We have nothing to fear. We remember that even the prayer that we offer is the work of God. And God does not miss an opportunity to work miracles in those who have the courage and generosity to wait in stillness and silence.