Embracing silence is really difficult to do as a working woman who wants a healthy social life. But, is it really IMPOSSIBLE? Call me crazy, but I believe it’s possible to live an active life and embrace silence. In fact, an authentic relationship with Christ demands it. In early October, I started taking steps to figure out how, even if that meant abandoning my IG feed for a bit. I’ve taken the last month to try to debunk the falsity that silence is solely for monks and cloistered religious.
I believe this is timely, especially as Autumn pulls at our heartstrings for more reflection and self-awareness, and as the Advent season invites us into a waiting period, where we’re reminded, if we’re not silent, we could miss something very special!
And, what is it that I could really miss? A deeper relationship with God that He created me for. But, why would I miss out on a greater depth if I don’t draw into silence? That’s because silence is God’s dwelling place.
And the devil knows this. He knows that I’m missing out and he knows where God lives and speaks most intimately…in the silence. So, the evil one, bombards me with gorgeous pictures on Pinterest, text alerts all hours of the night, and constant inspirational social posts to read or write. And, that doesn’t even touch on “Alexa” playing music for me throughout the day, a movie queued up at night, and back to back phone and Zoom calls.
Frankly, I’ve come to realize I’m controlled by noise. I’m even one who has to have a fan on in the background!
How I am so missing out on showing God my love for Him, giving Him one of the greatest compliments I can give, silence! Because without it, God will disappear into the noise of my ringtone, the little noise I hear when I “like” a Facebook post, and on and on…
I know we all have different vocations and schedules – but whether you’re a mother working overtime, a college student, missionary, or single 30-something with flexible hours, don’t you want to embrace silence too?
Silence can be so difficult because we want to be in control. And, when we’re in the presence of God, we realize we aren’t in control. So, how do we get past this?
One of the first things I did as I set out to embrace more prayer and a deeper silence, I went to a friend.
John Cannon spent seven years in monastic life as a Carmelite, an ancient Catholic religious order. He recently founded SENT to fuel Catholic entrepreneurs to address pressing human and spiritual needs through integration of world-class business insight and deep spiritual practice.
I’m so excited for you to read John’s story, and be inspired to embrace silence and prayer in your own life.
Q: What drew you to the Carmelite Order?
A: Prayer. Silence. Community. Seeking intimacy with God. After an intense conversion, I felt God trying to call me to Himself in these ways. I felt that he was inviting me into a deeper intimacy of love with Him primarily through a more contemplative and still path. The Carmelites, since their founding in the 13th century by hermits on Mount Carmel, embody this Spirit and still seek to live it today. This way of life had a magnetic pull on me and I discerned to take a step in that direction.
Q: Who are the Saints our readers would recognize as Carmelites? What have these men and women “done” to further the Kingdom? How can we “in the world” live what they’ve inspired?
A: Some of the more popular Saints of the Carmelite Order include Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as “the Little Flower”, a cloistered nineteenth-century Carmelite nun who died at the age of 24 from tuberculosis, yet still somehow mysteriously became one of the most popular saints of the Church today. Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Ávila, 16th century Mystics and co-founders of a Discalced Carmelite order, are also quite popular and well-known in Catholic and non-Catholic circles. Amazingly, the Carmelites have three Doctors of the Church in Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross. I think, more than anything else, their lives embody and teach us about the richness of prayer and outline a path to seeking an intimacy and even union with God even in this life.
I think it is somewhat of a fallacy to believe that the monastic life or religious life are completely separate from the lay life or being “in the world”. We are all “in the world”, living and having the opportunity to grow closer to others, to ourselves, and to God. The same basic building blocks and ingredients are true for this journey whether you live in religious life or in “normal life.” The Carmelite saints and mystics, perhaps more than anything else, show us that through prayer regardless of one’s state in life, location, or work, one can be drawn into this deeper harmony of self, harmony of relationship with others, and deeper harmony with God.
Q: What can lay people learn from the Carmelite tradition?
A: Regardless of our state in life, we’re all called to intimacy with God. The Saints, and especially the Carmelite saints, teach us that we are invited to even a union with God in this life. The Second Vatican Council reiterates this in its “universal call to holiness“ in which everyone including and especially the laity are called to sanctity and union with God in this life.
“Union with God” sounds abstract, but it’s really just habituating oneself to act in a way similar to how Christ would given one’s circumstances and state in life. How does Christ call you to think, act, and be in any given moment?
Q: What did you learn about God, prayer, and discernment, during your seven years of cloistered life?
A: During my time in religious life, I learned that God, prayer, and discernment are not distinct aspects of our lives or things to be accomplished but rather can be infused into all aspects of our being even down to the very marrow of our bones. Yet, at the same time they require intentional dedicated time to focus only on them.
For any relationship to flourish, you have to invest time in it. This is the same for our relationship with God. You have to spend time with Him, if you want the relationship to grow. Although life itself can be lived as a prayer, in order to do that, you must also have specific time dedicated to prayer daily. A good habit and routine for this can be simply to spend 20 to 30 minutes first thing in the morning in intentional prayer. Showing up consistently is the most important thing. Then, the Holy Spirit will teach you how to pray. Similarly, we need specific time for discerning major and even minor decisions we have to make. In practice, an examination of conscience at night when we review our day and look at key decisions, can be a powerful tool. Through building this muscle, we can more quickly and readily discern in the midst of life.
Q: What form of prayer did you learn from the Carmelites that you pray daily?
A: One form of prayer that became helpful to me is the “Jesus Prayer.” This prayer, which is common in Orthodox Traditions and also respected within the Catholic tradition, is one that draws you closer to the merciful Heart of Jesus through reciting a single, simple prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I would often recite this prayer or a very shortened version of it at the beginning of our prayer time.
The Carmelites have two Holy hours each day — two full hours dedicated to quiet prayer with God every day! I found that this prayer often settled me and brought me closer to an awareness of Christ’s presence within me and around me. I would recite it slowly, often just saying “Jesus, Mercy.” I would unite this prayer to my breath until being slowly drawn into a silence and stillness where I could just be with Him and let Him do his work within me.
Q: Why do you think more silence is needed in our world?
A: Our world is so filled with noise. Noise through media. Noise in the anxiety of our tasks and activities. Noise in music. Noise in traffic. I think it’s interesting that the default sound of the universe is silence. Noise cannot travel through space because there is no matter to conduct the sound through vibration. Silence is the default of the universe and much of the Earth as well.
Saint John of the Cross states that “the language that God loves most is the language of silent love.” When you see two old couples that are still in love and enjoy each other’s presence spending time with each other, they are often just silent; being with each other is enough. Or consider two lovers who just want to stay together gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes. These modes of loving expression can sometimes be the most intimate ways of communicating. Silence draws us into a deeper relationship with ourselves, deeper awareness of God’s presence around us, and even helps us to begin to taste the simple and harmonious beauty of Heaven.
Q: Reminders and encouragement to pray are always welcome. I even offer prayer check-ins to my spiritual directees. Do you have a reminder or encouragement about prayer that you would like to share with our readers?
A: This is a wonderful practice! I think having little reminders to draw us into prayer or to remind us to pray can be very powerful. This may look different for different people. For me I have a photo of my father looking very happy sitting on my dresser. He is a very saintly man but is no longer with me on this Earth. When I see it it reminds me to be joyful, to smile, and to do things that I enjoy, which sometimes I neglect.
One of my Carmelite priest mentors had a picture of Saint John of the Cross in his cell with him holding his finger over his mouth reminding him to be silent because he likes to speak sometimes a little too much! What is the reminder for you that draws you to prayer or to practice that virtue or disposition that you desire to grow in? Keep a little token reminder in a place that you’ll see to draw you deeper into this practice.
More About Silence
Whether or not you’re feeling the call to cultivate silence, I dare say, it will come for you. It is a conversion experience. And, get ready, because it takes courage! It is a step in the stages of spiritual growth as we make our ascent to the heights. Because silence is a sacred discipline that calls on each of us to turn all of our attention to God, and that means not even thinking about ourselves. In contemplative silence, we look at God and not ourselves; asking for nothing. Cardinal Robert Sarah explains, “If we walk toward God, there comes a moment when speech is useless and uninteresting because contemplation alone has any importance.”
As John explained, “love is silent.” It is also humble and contemplative. It falls before the beloved in adoration with all three of these attributes. Therefore, silence with God is all about love. Who of us would want to miss a word of the lover of our heart when He speaks? And who of us would want to miss the opportunity to dispose of our hearts to reciprocate that love? Not me. And girl, not you!