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November 21st, 2014

Musing Two: Silence is Golden


A journalist once asked Mother Teresa, ‘What do you say when you pray to God?’

Her answer took him by surprise – ‘Nothing,’ she said.

Recovering himself, and thinking he was catching her drift, he said, ‘Well ok then, when you pray, what does God say to you?’

‘Nothing,’ she said, leaving him speechless.

I heard this story recounted by Tony Campolo years ago. He quite rightly pointed out that the most intimate moments between lovers are actually when words of love themselves are not enough… gazing into each other’s eyes, embracing and quietly being together can go even deeper than words.

Words are central to our faith – Jesus is the Word of God, the Bible is God’s inspired word of love to us and we know that the world only exists because God spoke the ‘word’ to create it and it was done. But before He spoke, He was…

There are many biblical pictures of silence: the call in Psalm 37:7 to ‘be still before the Lord’, or the picture in Psalm 131 of a weaned child at its mother’s breast, stilled and quieted… at peace, no need for words… learning to trust.

We live in a world so full of words, activity and noise that we have come to see silence as something to be escaped and avoided at all costs (and often, of course, there are reasons for this – for all our own pains and needs become a lot more obvious when the noise lessens) – but silence is not emptiness, as we have thought. Why is it, if you go into the heart of the wilderness, the valley, the mountain top, the woods or the desert, that you will ‘hear’ silence? Perhaps silence is not actually nothing, but is in fact the sound of God’s love being imparted to all that is made. Perhaps, if we wait long enough in the silence, we will find ourselves immersed in this love.

Words are good; words from God are even better. After a dramatic encounter with God and an experience of freedom in December 2002, I experienced six and a half years where God spoke to me in words as regularly as someone with whom you would live with as husband or wife. I spoke and He spoke back. He still speaks, but the last few years have been different: it hasn’t really been through words. At first I struggled and battled to work out what was wrong and to get those words back from Him. You see, I’m a words person – it’s one of my love languages. I like having God speak words into my spirit like a gentle whisper of love… But during more recent times, particularly, I have had my eyes opened… and I have begun to see that while God loves to speak to us like that, some of the deepest communication we will ever have with Him is wordless. Sometimes, in the silence, we will experience that there is a love that goes right into the depths of our spirit – deeper than words can communicate. This is ‘silent communion’, oneness – there are times within this when we feel very little, but yet at a deep level can be communing with God.

And so, I would like to say to you – if you are experiencing many words, pictures and visions from God, then wonderful – ask for more! ‘For everyone who has, will be given more’ (Matthew 25:29). But if, when you come to pray and be with God, all you experience is dryness, restlessness, emptiness, silence… don’t give up; don’t think God is angry with you or that He is punishing you; don’t believe the lie that He is distant; and don’t think it’s you – that you can’t hear, that you can’t receive. No, stay with the silence. Stay there… Be silent, be still, let your God love you. Listen to Him in and through the silence – it is the sound of His love for you.

And, I believe, in this He takes us to a deeper place of trust. For, if we only know that He is loving us when we are experiencing Him in a particular way, then we are dependent on that experience. If, however, we know that even in the silence we are being held by the everlasting arms, we will be as confident of the love of God when we feel very little as when we are inebriated with overflowing emotions. For, ultimately, the Father’s love is not received in our emotions, minds or wills, though it may touch them; it is received in our hearts. The love of God, as James Jordan says, ‘wraps around our spirit’, and we just know, because we know, because we know we are loved.

John of the Cross knew about the touches of God in the spirit very well, where one could not really perceive God with the ‘senses’ as he called them, and yet at the same time could know that one’s spirit was being drawn into a deep encounter with love. The unknown author of the book The Cloud of Unknowing also had an idea about this. He spoke of a silent longing love for God. He saw that, as valuable as many other experiences of God could be, in contemplation one could be led into a place where it is not really the words or revelations of God that are given to the believer, but God himself!

So, in the presence of His love…

Why not –

Be silent,

Be still,

Breathe His love in deep.

Whisper His name –

Jesus… Jesus…

Father… Father…


And let your mind become still –

And wait… and wait…

In the silence…


You may experience dazzling lights, visions and words, or you may just experience silence… but perhaps you will come to see that silence is golden… for you are resting right inside the heart of God.


The Musings of an Urban Monk is available online and from bookshops.

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