NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF SILENCE

John as a person of reflection

John as a person of reflection

 

God communicates in silence. Part of our understanding of the divine nature is that God communicates love internal to the Trinity and in constant gift to the world. Humanity often cannot or will not listen, but God’s communication is everywhere. As an English hymn reminds us, “The whole world is aflame with God but only they who see take off their shoes.” In the Spiritual Canticle the Bridegroom praises his bride for her choice of solitude, and as their love develops she finds quiet and peaceful solitude in which she can rest alone, focusing on her love for her Beloved. So, she lived in solitude before reaching spiritual marriage in which she discovers perfect solitude, complete refreshment, and rest. In this quiet solitude, the Beloved now “guides, moves, and raises her to divine things” (C. 35.5), moving her to deeper love of God. She has learned to rest in quiet solitude, and there God communicates in silence.

We hunger for silence. Our lives are filled with noise and clutter, and in our spiritual lives, for the most part, we wander around disoriented, at best adding a new coat of paint to our spiritual lives now and again. John of the Cross presents an entire remaking of the spiritual system. He challenges us to leave aside everything from the outside and only listen to what is within. In silent attentiveness and inner recollection, we open our hearts to the transforming presence of God. In receptivity we find God in the world, in others, in divine wisdom and designs; we discover God’s love for us and we become thrilled to find God teaches us how to love. The soul acknowledges that her Beloved is like “lonely wooded valleys,” quiet, pleasant, delightful, refreshing, and enriching. But, it is always “in their solitude and silence they refresh and give rest” (C. 14-15.7).

John emphasizes a silent resting in the Spirit. In contemplation we hear the communications of the Holy Spirit and recognize the call to open our minds and hearts. Thus, we can listen to the unspoken communications of love for not only is the Beloved hidden, but so too is love. In silent resting we can prepare our hearts to discover both. Contemplation will be illuminative and delightful, but purgative and painful, as God gives new knowledge and strips away the old. “In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words, and without the help of any bodily or spiritual faculty, in silence and quietude, in darkness to all sensory and natural things” (C. 39.12)

Transformation comes in silence. John of the Cross himself, in aloneness and abandonment, heard communications of wonder. In contemplative silence we can quiet the sensible dimensions of life and focus our spiritual vitality on the exclusive commitment to the pursuit of God’s love. This means readying ourselves for divine interventions in our lives. In fruitful emptiness God guides our spiritual activity. Even in the spiritual sleep of betrothal, “the soul possesses and relishes all the tranquility, rest, and quietude of the peaceful night; and she receives in God, together with this peace, a fathomless and obscure divine knowledge” (C. 14-15.22).

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