Self-knowledge and the spiritual life-Part III of III: Sacred Silence


Editor’s note: In part two, we discussed how silence is important to self-knowledge.

What is sacred silence? There are many scripture passages that convey important elements of a true God-ward silence. One that is sublimely concise is Psalm 46:10:

Be still, and know that I am God

This passage clearly reveals the type of silence necessary for a God-ward self-knowledge. First, we have the purpose of silence, to know and acknowledge that He is God. Silence apart JeanEtienneLiotard07MirrorVanityfrom this acknowledgment and this pursuit of intimacy with God is a self-centered navel-gazing affair that will yield little more than an empty rest. With God, silence finds its highest value and meaning. It becomes not only restorative but also redemptive. It becomes an act of worship and lays the groundwork for a disposition that can receive the fullness that God has to bring to our souls – including self-knowledge.

The second element necessary for the fruitful pursuit of a sacred silence is to “Be still.” Stillness in this context is best reflected in the idea of the dedicated attention of one’s soul to another. As an example, my wife and I are very busy folks. We regularly communicate via text messages, emails, on the phone between meetings, or running errands etc. At times, usually after several months of this type of communication we run into a situation where our ability to connect breaks down. This often happens when we attempt to deal with the weightier issues of life on-the-fly. Sometimes we are looking to be efficient with one another rather than present. When this happens frustration rises. The only remedy is to slow down and spend time face to face, without interruptions, and with the demonstrated commitment that in the time we set aside to connect, there is nothing more important than loving and serving one another. This concentrated encounter captures something of the essence of stillness with God.

So, we have two simple elements that make up a truly sacred silence:

  1. being alone with and acknowledging God, and
  2. being still before God.

The challenge for most of us is that this can seem like a lofty and out of reach ideal. How can we legitimately aspire to this kind of silence when the world demands so much of us? Most of us are not cloistered contemplatives. Most of us battle with an endemic busy-ness. However it is a reality that many among us achieve the goal of silence necessary to know ourselves and God. These will never be in the majority, but God is always calling and equipping willing hearts to enter into a deeper relationship with him.

That said, as with any meaningful accomplishment in life, loving God through this spiritual discipline of silence is not something we can simply snap into existence. It takes time, dedication, commitment and energy to achieve. Breaking away from the Martha-syndrome to achieve something of what Mary understood (Luke 10:42) is more than worth the effort. The lover of our souls is waiting in the silence. Only through silence will we find him and know the love that he has for us there.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

Seek Him – Find Him – Follow Him



Art for this post on self-knowledge and the spiritual life: Young Girl Singing in a Mirror, Jean-Ètienne Liotard, 18th century, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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