The Silence of Detachment
Part III of III
This post is the third in a series on whether we should sit quietly during prayer. Part 1 was about the false silence of Centering Prayer and yoga. Part 2 discussed Teresa of Avila’s teaching on prayer and silence. Today, I’d like to talk briefly about the silence of detachment.
If we want God to enter our lives in a significant way, we must make room for Him. He never forces Himself on anyone. Counterfeit spiritual silence can exist alongside mortal sin. But sin is incompatible with union with God. The writer to the Hebrews urges us:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2)
Notice, we have two types of burdens to get rid of, sin and “every weight.” To grow closer to God, we must first work to avoid mortal sin and its near occasion. Then we tackle venial sin and its occasion. But even when we are doing our best to avoid venial sin, we still have “stuff” in between us and God.
Think of your heart as an attic. If you invite God to dine with you there, how much stuff do you have to remove first? You must make room for a table and chairs, and make a path to walk in. And then, you’ll want to get rid of all the junk that might embarrass you before your Divine Guest. My kids often complain when we have to clean the house to prepare for guests. I tell them that having a clean house is a sign that we honor our guests. The same is true with God.
Now, of course, there are some “messes” that are so bad only God Himself can remove them, some stains He must scrub out. But if we want His help, we must do our part.
Saint Teresa of Avila writes:
“The whole point is that we should give ourselves to Him with complete determination, and we should empty the soul in such a way that He can restore things there or take them away as though it were His own property… He doesn’t give Himself completely until we give ourselves completely.” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 28, 12)
The key, then, to the silence that is necessary for union with God is not a lack of thoughts, but a lack of attachment to anything other than God.
Who can argue that it is usually easier to pray when we are not preoccupied with our worries, duties, and possessions? When I am continually distracted by the same thing in prayer, I ask myself whether I have surrendered it to God. If He is truly in charge of it, then I need not worry about it. Sometimes I imagine myself laying certain cares at our Lord’s feet as I begin to pray. Then I can (theoretically) focus on Him.
The silence of detachment takes hard work–usually years of it. But if we “look to Jesus,” we will know that the goal is worth the effort.
Art: Mirror of Mutter mit Kind am Fenster (Mother with Child at the Window), Anton Ebert, by 1896; Christ at the house of Mary and Martha, Alessandro Allori, 1605, published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923; both PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.