In the mid 80’s, I began to read Thomas Keating’s books on centering prayer. They became foundational in my journey with the Lord. One quote from Keating on the silence of God stuck with me, yet for some time just did not make sense to me. In these last years, however, it has become more and more relevant in my personal pilgrimage with Jesus. Keating observed, “God’s first language is that of silence.” I thought of this quote as I prepared to preach on the gospel text of Matt 15:21-28. It is the story of the Canaanite woman coming to Jesus. The woman cries out in desperation for Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. “Jesus,” however, “did not answer a word” (Matt. 15:23). He was silent. The disciples tried to get rid of the woman because the silence made her pleading even more pronounced: “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
My sense is that we often have trouble with Jesus’ response because our Western mindset does not mentally and emotionally equip us to deal with the silence of God. We want to understand and to have control over our personal affairs. It is, however, in silence that we begin to know more about ourselves and our relationship to God. Euguene Peterson writes, “There’s a silence that deepens relationships. It’s a reflective silence. It’s a silence that absorbs all that is being said by the other person. Intimacy is awakened in such silence. Experiencing such silence, I discover that I’ve been listened to, that my words have been taken absolutely seriously, that I’m being responded to as a unique person – too important a person to just be turned off with a phrase.”
Men, I want to encourage you in your experience of the silence of God. There will be times on your journey when God will seem very distant and uninvolved. Your prayer life will seem fruitless. You may even begin to question God’s love for you. You may feel anger at your sense of his absence. But remember, please remember, that God is present in the silence. He knows all about you and even the thoughts and emotions you are experiencing. Peterson observes that we are puzzled by the silence of God because we do not know him very well: “For when he is silent, he is stil listening.”
During the times of God’s silence in my life, I have learned to listen in the silence. In this silence I have become more aware of myself and my reactions to God. I have begun to learn that God speaks loudly in the silence. It is an awareness that goes beyond words and sensations. It is the calm certainty that God loves me and that I am in his presence. I am able to accept the whole truth about myself, which includes the bad and the ugly. It is in the silence that I face who I really am. In facing the real me, I am able to be honest with God. And in this honesty, I come to know God for who he is and not who I would like him to be in my life, what I’ve imagined him to be, and what I would like him to do for me. As I have become more accepting of the silence of God, I have come to know more of the true God and my true self. This is not illusion but reality. Real relationship is built not on illusion but on reality.