“My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me (Psalm 131:1-2).”
Over and again through the years, spiritual guides have spoken of the importance of quietness. Spiritual silence is the antidote for the reckless living of the prodigal son; it is a source of deep and great healing for bitter older sons. Spiritual silence is that space in which our anxious, ego-intoxicated lives can give way to the witness of the Holy Spirit who reminds us continually that we are the children of God. Listen to these extraordinary words once again: “I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
Spiritual silence should not be mistaken for the absence of noise. Such a place, so far as most of us can tell, does not exist; there is some noise almost everywhere. Spiritual silence is the practice of minimizing (not eliminating) outward noise, letting go of distractions and simply resting quietly in the love of God. Very few words are necessary. In fact, it is entirely possible to pray without words, simply resting in God’s grace, like two good friends who don’t have to speak in order to enjoy one another’s company. Even in our frenzied and frenetic world, such a thing can be done. Really! In fact, the need for spiritual silence is even greater today because of the countless distractions in our lives.
The ancient “Jesus prayer” is one way of calming and quieting your soul. Find a reasonably quiet and comfortable place where you can be alone. Take a few deep breaths to release some of the tension in your body. Then, slowly repeat these words, adapted from the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9 ff: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Inwardly repeat these words over and over in rhythm with your breathing. After a few minutes, inwardly whisper just one word, “mercy.” When you find that your mind is racing to things you need to do, problems you must address, calls that you need to make or any of the millions of places your anxious brain may take you, return gently to the prayer. Settle into the word “mercy.”
The “Jesus prayer,” as it has been called for centuries, is just one way of settling in to the merciful presence of the living God. It takes time and patience to learn this prayer. But as you begin to learn to calm and quiet your soul, you discover that the Spirit of God is closer than you ever had imagined; and the peace that Jesus promised to his disciples is absolutely real. Open the door to the gift of silence and learn why Christian guides of every age have recommended it so highly.