This article is from the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Reflections magazine. Click here to read the entire magazine.
by Carla Pineda
I am a word person. I grew up around books and with a mother who was an English teacher. I watched a grandmother write daily. I read as a starving person looking for food in words. I never leave home without a journal or blank paper to write on. My prayers often show up on the page of a journal after I have been reflecting, questioning or just rambling about something. I love the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer and scripture. I know many of them by heart. I grew up with them and they are in my fiber, in my DNA.
Yet, sometimes words get in my way, even the beautiful words of the Book of Common Prayer or scripture that resonate in every fiber of my being.
Sometimes I need to go to the place before the words in my prayer journey….into the “silence of the heart.” I need to not be praying words but letting silence seep in so that I can hear what it is God is saying to me beyond the words.
The prayer of silence has a long history. Jesus went away to pray at times, away from the crowds, from the noise, from the spoken services of the synagogue. The early desert mothers and fathers went to the desert to pray. Silence was built into the structure of their rules of life. Silent prayer may also be known as meditation, contemplation, centering prayer (to name a few).
Forms of silent prayer are in all the major world religions. This silence is necessary for spiritual balance. For me, it is an important part of my prayer life.
So, what does this prayer, this “silence of the heart” look like in my prayer life? It is quietly sitting on my prayer stool and following my breath. It is watching my thoughts float through and not grabbing (or trying to not grab) hold of them.
It is sitting in the stillness of St. Francis Chapel or on the bank of the Guadalupe River at Camp Capers and letting that stillness enter me. It is listening for “the heartbeat of God.” It is letting God lead me, giving up my agenda, my questions, even my specific prayer requests.
It is giving it all to God, taking it back, and turning it over again.
It is on this path then that I am more awake and attentive to what God has to say to me. It is as if in the silence I then can better discern the words I need to pray. It is sometimes a bumpy ride.
Silent prayer in community is another way this prayer has fed me. I sit once a week with three or four other women for 30 minutes. Beginning with some music and a short spiritual reading we then sit in stillness and quiet that brings forth a palpable sense of the holy. Our sharing is done from the silence and is richer for it. One time I attended a contemplative Eucharist that was done completely in silence. I met the mystery of this sacrament in a deeper and more intimate way that day. The silence let me know this is a meal not for “sissies.” And I was in a group for several years where we learned a process called “Contemplative Dialogue.” Silence was the setting and sharing was done from the silence with no cross talk, conversation or dialogue. Silence informed my spoken prayers later those nights.
For me, silent prayer is the foundation. Starting in the silence I am led out of my head and into my heart. Here I can “listen with the ear of my heart” and hear from a deeper place. This place is not always a place of comfort. It is at times a place of dis-ease, of unsettledness, of dark.
But, staying there I learn to trust, and the words that have so shaped me take on deeper and more grace-filled meanings.
Carla Pineda is a writer and retreat leader. She is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org