Prayer: The Need for Intentional Silence
By Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, May 23, 2018
We all know the externals of prayer. Many people also pray in front of icons. Today’s reflection is about the need for intentional silence.
Before we can encounter God, there is a necessity for silence and stillness. You might be wondering “it is not silent when we worship,” so does there need to be silence in order to encounter God? There has to be a sense of stillness, or silence, in our minds and hearts in order to encounter God. If one’s mind is clouded with thoughts, or filled with negative emotion, like anger, it will be hard to pray and to encounter God. Even though communal worship is not silent, it does have a certain degree of stillness. We sit or stand in stillness when we worship. When I stand at the altar table, I am not silent, but I am relatively still. I am not running or typing or anything else, other than standing and praying.
It is very difficult to carry on multiple conversations at the same time. Many of us speak about multi-tasking as if it is some kind of virtue. Multi-tasking may be good in a few instances, like cooking while talking on the phone, etc., but in general multi-tasking dilutes our attention from all the tasks we are trying to accomplish, not allowing us to accomplish any of our multiple tasks particularly effectively. This is very true as concerns prayer. You can’t multi-task while praying. An encounter with God happens when we are silent and still. So, in order to pray, we have to learn to be quiet and focus.
Many of us do not know how to talk to God. We know a few rote prayers but not how to create a prayer. To create a prayer, as well as to pray a prayer we know, requires focus and attention. It takes focus to use our creativity for any task, and that includes prayer. In order to focus, we need to be free from distraction. We can’t focus with loud music on. We can’t focus on one task when doing another.
Silence and stillness, the absence of activity and noise, awakens other part of us, so that we can encounter God. Here is another beautiful quote, on silence, from the book Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom:
This (sense of happiness in prayer) can be reached only if we learn a certain amount of silence. Begin with the silence of the lips, with the silence of the emotions, the silence of the mind, the silence of the body. But it would be a mistake to imagine that we can start at the highest end, with the science of the heart and the mind. We must start by silencing our lips, by silencing our body in the sense of learning to keep still, to let tenseness go, not to fall into daydreaming and slackness, but to use the formula of one of our Russian saints, to be like a violin string, wound in such a way that it can give the right notes, neither wound too much to breaking point, nor too little so that it only buzzes. And from then onwards we must learn to listen to silence, to be absolutely quiet, and we may, more often than we imagine, discover the words of the Book of Revelation come true: “I stand at the door and knock”. (From Beginning to Pray, by Anthony Bloom, p. 94-95)
Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of silence. We reach for our phones, our music, our electronic devices whenever there is silence, and sometimes even when there isn’t. Our “at your fingertips” smartphones, have made us increasingly impatient. Anytime there is a gap of waiting or silence, we’ve got hundreds of apps on the phone to fill the space. We have to retrain ourselves, it seems, to feel comfortable with silence.
The other word to address today is the word “intentional” that I placed purposely before the word silence. In today’s Scripture verse, Jesus went up to the mountain by Himself to pray. He was intentional. He didn’t just go for a walk and waited to see what would happen. He intentionally made a journey to a place where He could have some silence. He purposely made this spiritual retreat. We have to learn to do the same thing by blocking off a portion of the day every day to spend with God.
Reflect on these questions: How much intentional silence do you have in your daily life? Do you find silence awkward or difficult and why?
If you’re not used to silence, try just sitting still for a few minutes. Daydream if needed. Just practice being still and silent. Then sit with an icon of Jesus and reflect on the icon and our Savior depicted in it. Then work on opening your mouth to offer words to Him. It all starts, however, with silence.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and evermore. Psalm 131
Schedule some intentional moments of silence today, and every day!
~Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Tampa, FL, http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/.