How do you listen to someone who is silent?
The Desert Fathers are known for their dedication to prayer. They approach prayer with a passion for the inner workings of the Holy Spirit. They have made the decision to leave everything behind and spend the rest of their time in the desert in silence and meditative prayer. They are not running away from life or their commitments to relationships and people, but they have made a greater choice to seek God’s presence in solitude and meditation. They believe that this initial step of solitude is the first step of faith to knowing God.
I grew up as a second-generation Christian. I loved my family and my local church, but there was a time when prayer became an outward exercise rather than the inward longing of the heart. As a young child, I remember prayer more as a form of expressing our needs rather than a soul’s search for the Creator Savior. I saw prayer in its form and not in its essence. However, Henri Nouwen has reminded us that solitude and silence is essential for every Christian before one can appreciate the inner workings of prayer and meditation. God can only be encountered when we stop bringing our needs to him, stop clouding our minds and hearts with all the concerns of this world, and start listening for the small still voice of the Spirit of God. When we start listening to God’s silence, it is only then that we see Him in His glory and grace.
When is a good time to listen to God’s presence? Sometimes, it is when you are suffering that you are able to listen to God better. Some people say that the early morning hours is the best time to come to His presence. Most pastors recommend reading the Bible first and meditating on the teachings of Scriptures before opening your ears to listen to Him speak. However, the Desert Fathers have reminded us that the question of when, of a time of listening, is secondary. What is really primary and essential is the question of who we are listening to. Are we listening to God? Are our spirits in step with the Spirit of God? When we are focused on the Person of the Trinity, who God is in our lives, then the time of the day or the occasion of our prayer becomes less significant. What is important is to hear our God say: “This is my child, with whom I am well pleased.” We seek Him out because He longs to put His arms around us. We listen to God’s silence because He is the God of the universe and the Savior of the world. He is silent because He wants us to encounter Him in His own terms and not in the predilections of our humanity or the constraints of our history. He is the Almighty Lord of all . . . and so, we pray.