December 29, 2010
This "Sacred Woods" near Spoleto, Italy, was a favorite prayer site of St. Francis of Assisi. (Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.)
Time for Some Peace and Quiet
by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
Once again, Christmas has come and gone. If your yuletide has been filled with lots of hustle and bustle, you are probably ready for some quiet time. In short, you may be longing for a little time of silence and reflection—in other words, for contemplative prayer.
Some Forms of Silent Prayer
I hope this E-spiration will help you find the contemplative experience you seek. What you and I may indeed need at this juncture is what some spiritual guides and writers call the “Prayer of Inner Quiet.” One of the richest forms of prayer can occur when the heart is absolutely quiet. As the psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Several years ago, Dominican Sister Sylvia Rosell, from the Stillpoint House of Prayer in Albany, New York, explained it to me this way: “If you still your mind, you can hear your own heart. And at the core of your heart is the indwelling of God. It’s just like when you love someone, you just sit there and you look at each other. You just silently stare, and there is a terrible presence between you. It’s an awesome thing. God is present and you are present—to each other. It’s a matter of just being there.”
For example, we might start out with the reading of a short passage from Scripture, but gradually our words and thoughts simplify. The natural drift of prayer is often from words to silence, according to Father William Johnson, S.J., who has written several books on prayer. At times, he says, we may feel led, as if by a hidden compass, into this kind of silent union with God.
In many cases, prayers that rely on words may be the best form of prayer for us. In fact, Father Johnson cautions against striving too hard to get rid of words and thoughts. Yet he believes we should be conscious of those times when the Spirit is moving us to silence. “It’s like there are two layers of the psyche,” he explains. “In one layer there are lots of words and thoughts going on, but on a deeper level, you are united closely to God.” When we feel drawn to silent union, it is good to go there and rest in God as long as the Spirit invites.
Similar to the “Prayer of Inner Quiet” is what we might call the “Prayer of Listening.” In this prayer, the focus is on listening to God, who reveals himself in our inmost being. You listen at the core of your being to the deepest voice of all, the voice of God and of the Spirit. Thomas Merton describes this kind of prayer as “finding one’s deepest center, awakening the profound depths of our being in the presence of God, who is the source of our being and life.”
A Prayer of Silent Union With God
You may find it rewarding to try this simple prayer exercise:
Just sit down and, keeping your back straight but free, begin quieting your mind and your body by taking a few relaxing, deep breaths. Close your eyes if you wish. Center your awareness on the silent and infinite presence of God within your heart.
Let the Spirit lead you beyond the noisy world of space and time and into the silent realm where God dwells as the source and ground of your being. Center your attention on that hushed point within you where the human touches the divine, where the branch (you) intersects with Jesus, the vine—where you and God are one and dwell in each other.
Let yourself sink into the silent immensity of God. Simply let your prayer be a silent being there with God. Without any need for thoughts and words, exchange quiet love with God for as long as you feel inspired to do so.
Have a happy and prayerful New Year!
Readers respond to Friar Jim Van Vurst's December E-spiration, Catechism Quiz: Did the Good Samaritan Struggle?
Dear Patty: You are correct; the whole journey of a believer is most importantly guided by acts and actions rather than by feelings. Compassion by decision is exactly what Jesus was doing when he said, “Father, not my will but yours be done.” Fr. Jim
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