Surprised By Silence

One of the surprising aspects of a contemplative life is the nature and impact of silence. And the trick is of course as soon as you start talking about it, you’re breaking the silence. It’s first and foremost experiential. That’s why Thomas Keating quotes Rumi: “Silence is God’s first language. Everything else is a poor translation.”

Surprised By Silence

When mystics and contemplatives speak of the abiding mystery or the realization of oneness, these are usually somehow inextricably linked to a deep interior silence.

Once you become deeply immersed into the silence so that it saturates your being, the kind of transformation that happens is comprehensive. It affects what and how we perceive, how we engage in the world, our very view of ourselves, and our sense of personhood.

There’s an impoverishment in trying to capture that in language, which is inherently linear, and can only communicate one thing at a time.

I suspect that’s why contemplative types are so often drawn to poetry, because it has a kind of concentration of meaning, layers and simultaneity that reflect the contemplative’s lived experience.

Whereas our normal register is usually the outer meaning only, a fairly superficial mode of communication, hollowed out.

What the silence reintroduces is a sacralized world, full of meanings which have been stripped away through our mechanized, modern eyes.

The contemplative silence has a quality to it, of mystery and beauty, of creative potential and generous embrace. It has an inherent abundant love about it.

As we identify with this more and more, our conventional ways of being begin to dissolve – at least as long as we are able to stay in this receptive mode. But we have to practice the silence.

We inherently come to realize that so much of what we assume to be the case is something we actually introduce into the world. The quality of the silence becomes the measure of our thought, speech, and action. We consider if what we’re doing is aligned with the qualities we encounter in the silence.

There is a surprising relationship between a kind of radical agency, a realization of our own choice of what qualities to introduce into this moment, in relationship to the silence.

We can put the background noise of our minds, the background emotions, the background stories we tell ourselves in brackets. The silence is actually more real than our contrived dramas. It is abiding, ever-present, here before us and here after us.

The contemplative life is a stripping away of the defenses in that silence, a resting in God, a grace that leads to transformation.

Going Further

A Time For Silence by Llywellyn Vaughan-Lee

Rising Tide of Silence film with Thomas Keating

Silence and Service by Richard Rohr

The Divine Transformation: Essentials of Christian Mysticism by Contemplative Light

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