By Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington, DC
One of the great spiritual battles and journeys is to get beyond, and outside our self. St. Augustine described one of the chief effects of sin was that man was curvatus in se(turned in on himself, i.e. turned inward). Forgetful of God we loose our way. Called to look outward and upward, to behold the Lord and his glory, instead we focus inward and downward, on things that are passing, noisy, troubling, and far less noble. No longer seeing our Father’s face and experiencing joyful confidence, we cower with fear, foolishly thinking things depend on us. Yes, we are turned inward, and I would add, downward. Scripture bids us, If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Col 3:1)
One of the graces of deeper prayer, if we persevere through the years, is that the Lord to turn us upward and outward. And, gradually our prayer turns more toward God and is less anxious about our own aches and pains. For now, it is enough to give them to God and trust his providence. Gradually, we simply prefer to experience the Lord quietly, in increasingly wordless contemplation. God draws us to a kind of silence in prayer as we advance along its ways. But that silence is more than an absence of sound, but instead results from us being turned more toward God. An old monastic tale from, I know not where, says:
Sometimes there would be a rush of noisy visitors and the silence of the monastery would be shattered. This would upset the disciples; but not the Abbot, who seemed just as content with the noise as with the silence. To his protesting disciples he said one day, “Silence is not the absence of sound, but the absence of self.”
Yes, as prayer deepens and becomes more contemplative the human person is turned more to God and a kind of holy silence becomes private prayer’s more common pattern. This does not mean nothing is happening, the soul has communion with God, but it is deeper than words or images. It is heart speaking to heart (cor ad cor loquitur). This is a deep communion with God that results from our being turned outward again to God. And the gift of silence comes from resting in God, from being less focused on ourselves, more and more on God: Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with (holy) fear and trembling stand, ponder nothing earthly minded….. Yes, there is a time for intercessory prayer, but not now. Don’t just do something, stand there. Don’t rush to express, rest to experience. Be still, know that He is God. An old spiritual says, Hush….Somebody’s callin’ my name. Yes, pray for and desire holy silence, praying beyond words and images. Here are the beginnings of contemplative prayer.
Two gifts of the deeper prayer we call contemplative prayer, prayer which moves beyond words and images, beyond the self to God Himself.