Speaking God's Language
Above my laptop at work there’s a quote from St Charles Borromeo: “Fly from avoidable distractions, keep your mind fixed on God.”
I’m easily distracted and I know it. Half an hour after turning on my laptop to get some work done, I know every result from sport last weekend, I know all the latest world news, and I’m 15 minutes down a YouTube hole before I finally realise I’ve been distracted. While distractions usually keep us from peace, “[God] keeps in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on [Him],” (Isaiah 26:3).
What Dave Rubin learnt from silence.
I was struck recently by a testimony to the power of silence from former atheist/agnostic Dave Rubin, host of The Rubin Report which has over one-million YouTube subscribers. In a radio discussion, Rubin talked about an “off-the-grid August” he practises in which he locks his phone in a safe and doesn’t look at any news or television. “I’m completely offline to try and let my brain reset,” he said.
“Two years ago when I did it … one of the thoughts that I kept having in my peace was that I’m not an atheist. I do believe in something else even if I can’t completely articulate what it is.”
— Dave Rubin
Rubin’s story would seem to suggest that man has a deeply ingrained call to silence which, if he answers it, can point him back to his own Creator. With all of the current trends towards mindfulness and meditation apps, the world is getting curiously close to catching onto the power of silence. Mr Rubin certainly has.
No pain, no gain.
Of course, it’s not easy to avoid distractions and enter into silence. In fact, avoiding distractions entirely is impossible, but we can limit how we allow them to lead us.
Like any good athlete will know, strength comes from practice. While it’s important to put in physical work for physical results, so, too, is it important (in fact, even more important!) to put in spiritual work to obtain spiritual results. Just look at Corinthians:
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
— 1 Corinthians 9:25
But it’s important to remember that effort in the spiritual life differs from effort in the physical. In physical exercise it’s all on us; in prayer it’s all on Him. Prayer is a gift to be received, not a reward to be earned. “Humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. ‘Man is a beggar before God’,” (CCC 2559).
God’s language is silence. (And the Enemy’s is noise.)
So, how can we approach God? How can we even begin to attempt to know, love, and serve Him? Speaking His language is a good place to start, and His language is silence. When we enter into silence, we disconnect from noise and reconnect with God. We drop distractions and pick up reality.
My spiritual director says every year the enemy invents new ways to create noise in our lives. Why? Because he hates silence and knows that in stillness we encounter God. Listen to what C.S. Lewis wrote about noise in Screwtape Letters. This is one demon teaching another, by the way …
“We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.”
— C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters
One of the most influential books I’ve read recently (and highly recommend) is The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by Cardinal Robert Sarah. Here’s what he said: “No prophet ever encountered God without withdrawing into solitude and silence. Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist encountered God in the great silence of the desert. Today, too, monks seek God in solitude and silence. I am speaking, not just about a geographical solitude or movement, but about an interior state. It is not enough to be quiet, either. It is necessary to become silence.”
Okay, hang on now. How the heck do we become silence? Allow me to explain. Well, I’ll let Cardinal Sarah explain.
“At the heart of man there is an innate silence, for God abides in the innermost part of every person. God is silence, and this divine silence dwells in man. In God we are inseparably bound up with silence.”
— Cardinal Robert Sarah
If all you do is take these two quotes from Cardinal Sarah to prayer every day this Lent, I can guarantee you, great things will happen. Why? Because God is always acting, He’s always on the move, always at work in us. We just need to be still, silent, and let Him do His work. “He who calls you is faithful and he will do it,” (1 Thessalonians: 5:24).
What does silence have to do with trusting God?
Often, the main thing stopping us from entering into silence is that we don’t trust God will act. So, we get busy. We try to fix our problems ourselves. We think and overthink. We analyse, scrutinise, and do everything we can to be as self-sufficient as possible. However, it is to our own detriment and lack of success.
All the while, God is with us. The All-Mighty, All-Knowing, All-Loving, All-Everything God. We just have to curb our ego, smash through our short-sightedness, and trust Him enough to speak His language. Ironically, it is there — in His silence – that we will find the most help, answers, and action.
God will act through silence. He’ll even part the sea!
One of the most hilarious verses in scripture (I think) is Exodus 14:14. Go read it. Well, finish this article and then go read it. The Israelites are being chased by a ferocious army, sent after them by a pretty ticked-off Pharaoh. In full flight, they approach the Red Sea and are about to be sandwiched between it and the blood-thirsty army. Sea before them, crazy army behind them. Wonderful time for God’s might to intervene.
What does God say in this heated moment? “You have only to be still.” Well, thanks, God — sounds like a great plan! But it is. Because He is with us. The full verse is: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” Of course, the Red Sea miraculously parts, allowing the Israelites to safely pass, and then closes up to swallow the savage army.
You see, stillness and silence before God is acknowledging that He is God and we are not. Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him.” Verse 5 says, “Trust in Him and He will act.” You don’t have to do it all yourself. You’re not alone and you’re not an orphan. You’re a Son or a Daughter. You have a Father, a good Father — the best Father. And He will look after you, if only you let Him.
How do I make room for silence?
So, that’s all well and good, but what about some practicals for entering into silence?
First, Cardinal Sarah says, “Even before the desert, the solitude, and the silence, God is already in man. The true desert is within us, in our soul.”
Make intentional time for silence with God. And I mean actual stillness with Him. Best of all, find a local Adoration chapel and go before HIM in the Blessed Sacrament. Look at Him and let Him look at you. Don’t move, don’t talk, don’t think (if you can). Just look at Him. Then realise that the same God looking at you from the Host is present in your soul. Seriously. Do that and let Him surprise you. Can you commit to an hour of stillness with God? If not, try 15 minutes at least! It will pay off. Trust me. If you persevere.
Second, punctuate your day with silence. What does that mean? Insert gaps of silence. When I was struggling with a (relatively minor) addiction, a good priest told me the key is to put a gap between the thought and the action. When the thought comes, don’t fight it; just pause, take the thought captive, think about it, then act. Easier said than done? I know, but that’s what Lent is for. Practice.
Also, leave silent gaps between activities. Especially before and after prayer. Notice the difference a gap of silence and stillness makes before Mass. Watch what happens. You’ve become present. You’ve dropped distractions. You can take in the Word and be present to the LORD.
More ideas for silence this Lent.
Finally, for Lent? No more Netflix! No more Facebook, no more Instagram, no more YouTube. For me, it’s no more ‘Latest World News’. Whatever floats your boat, sink it.
“Ah come on, Gerard, that’s too much.” Okay, pick just one of those things and drop it. It might be difficult, but the space that all that ‘noise’ is taking up in your mind will be left vacant for God. It will help you hear God — because He speaks in silence.
What will happen if you enter silence this Lent? Enter it with the LORD and let Him surprise you.