In the mid 80’s I began to reading Thomas Keating’s books on centering prayer. They became foundational in my journey at the time. One quote from Father Keating that stuck with me, yet for some time just did not make sense to me for a long time was one on the silence of God. In these last years it has become relevant in my personal life as a follower of Jesus. He observed, “God’s first language is that of silence.” I thought of this quote as I prepared to preach on the gospel text (Matt 15:21-28) for last Sunday. It is the story of the Canaanite woman coming to Jesus. The woman cries out in desperation for Jesus to heal her daughter who is demon-possessed. But, “Jesus did not answer a word (Matt. 15:23).” He was silent. The disciples simply wanted to get rid of her since the silence made her pleading even more pronounced. “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
My sense is that we have trouble with Jesus’ response because in our Western mindset, we are not mentally and emotionally equipped to deal with the silence of God. We want to understand and have some control in 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 might even begin to question God’s love for you. You could get anger at your sense of his absence. But remember, please remember, that God is present in the silence. He know 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 the silence of God in my life, I have learned to listen in the silence. In this silence I 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 I know God loves me and 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. In this honesty I come to know God for who he is and not who I would like him to be in my life and what I would like him to do for me. As I have become more accepting of the silence of God, I come to know more of the true God and my true self. This is reality and not illusion. Real relationship is built not on illusion but reality.