I’d really like to say that the first time I engaged in silent prayer was a mystical experience. It really wasn’t. The instructions that I was given before we started almost insured that it wouldn’t be. Even so, I am grateful for those instructions. I was told that my mind would wander. Try as I might there is no way that I could control my thoughts or prevent them from splattering the blank canvas that I hoped to cultivate. So that first time I just sat back and I looked at what got thrown up against that canvas. It was painted with nuances from the sermon on Sunday, my ever expanding to-do list, a laundry list of negative self-talk and the fear that I was surely doing this wrong.
But I stuck with it. Over time It became easier to put the paint brush down. I would notice when I was picking it up and gently reminded myself to put it back down again. It no longer looked like something Jackson Pollock might call, “a little busy.” In fact, it became minimalist in its nature. So minimalist that the first time I prayed on my own, away from my normal group of colleagues, I fell asleep.
I’ve had atheist and agnostic friends ask me why I spend time in prayer like this. One insists that it is selfish to spend this time in prayer, strongly suggesting that I am just talking to myself. There is a little truth to that. The first person that you encounter in any prayer experience is yourself. I have discovered more about myself during those times of prayer than I have in years of on again, off again counselling and all of the ministry group work that seminarians go through.
But there is more. Though the experience of silence is boring at times, (okay, its mostly boring) it is also an amazing teacher. Through silence my concepts of God have dismantled and reformed bigger and bigger each time. Concepts of myself have crumbled and formed healthier each time as I recognize the habits that have had a blind hold on me. I have learned how to forgive myself for these, how to receive and offer forgiveness, and how to rest in the fullness of God’s grace.
Salvation by grace through faith. Faith is a gift that is received and not formed in an isolated bubble. Silence is not a private hermitage meant for escapism and avoidance. It plunges you deep into the places that you have experienced God but were too busy to realize it. It is a place where you catch up with the perpetual motion of your life and learn increment by increment to live each moment aware of God’s presence. It calls you back to yourself to be aware and awake to the world around you.