By Renae Kranz
Five or six years ago, I was driving home alone after doing something at church. Maybe I had gone to confession, maybe it was Stations of the Cross. Somehow that detail escapes me now.
Whatever I had done at the church that night had stirred a new thought in me as I drove. I felt prompted to turn the radio off and drive in silence. I never do that. In fact, I always have something on to create noise. It’s how I have functioned my whole life.
As I drove down 57th Street in silence, God found me. I think he had been waiting for some silence so I could hear him. He said to me, “I want you to write for me.”
Once the initial “Wait, was that…?” wore off, my next thought was, “Okay. But how?”
I thought more about this encounter over the next few days, never disregarding it, but at the same time, not really knowing what to do with it. I am a writer, yes, but I had not been a working writer for a number of years at that point. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I just followed the promptings of my heart wherever they led me.
Over the next few years, I took various writing classes to sharpen my skills, started a freelance writing business and eventually ended up here, working for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, writing for my Lord through his Church. I had no idea I would end up here—not even an inkling.
God found me in silence that night. I needed the silence to hear his call for me.
Silence leads us to God
In his book, “The Power of Silence,” Robert Cardinal Sarah describes our world as a “dictatorship of noise” that robs us of peace and separates us from the God who desires to have a relationship with us. It keeps us from offering to God our true selves and our adoration of Him.
“The tragedy of our world is never better summed up than in the fury of senseless noise that stubbornly hates silence. This age detests the things that silence brings us to: encounter, wonder, and kneeling before God,” Cardinal Sarah says in his book.
Father Scott Traynor, vicar for lay and clergy formation for the diocese, says silence is not only about keeping our lips closed. Silence is actually more about not taking things in: refraining from reading a book, watching TV, browsing the internet, or even having a conversation. He says because we are constantly bombarded with noise and images, we need to fast from those things sometimes so we can “have a deeper conversation with God, with the divine persons.” It allows us to be ready to receive from the other.
“I want to allow what’s in my heart to surface and to be attentive to it instead of constantly receiving new input from my universe around me,” Father Traynor says.
If we want to hear God speaking to our heart, bringing silence to our prayer is key. When we’re constantly seeking out noise, we don’t leave room for listening to and hearing God when he’s speaking to us. Father Traynor says silence only really makes sense in the context of our relationship with God. Prayer is that principal relationship.
“Prayer is a heart-to-heart conversation with God,” Father Traynor says. “If I want to share my heart with God, I first have to be attentive to what’s in my heart. I want to become more aware of what’s stirring in my thoughts, feelings and desires (the things in my heart). And silence serves that.”
Father Traynor describes what happens during the silence as an amplification of our thoughts, feelings and desires and then a slowing down. He says they will stop being jumbled up and instead become more distinct so we can see them more clearly, as God sees them.
Why does that matter? Father Traynor says it helps us in discernment, to understand what is from God and therefore leading us to God, and also what is not from God. We can enter more deeply into that heart-to-heart conversation with our Lord.
Michala Heller, parishioner at Sacred Heart in Aberdeen, has spent much of her life pursuing silent conversation with God. For her, the opportunity to allow God to speak to her in silence is vital to her being. She’ll sometimes have an idea sparked when in silent prayer and knows it wasn’t from herself but from God. Other times something will be revealed to her that maybe she needs to work on or that God wants to affirm or challenge her with. She says to always be open when it comes to silence.
“I do feel blessed in that very often, when I’m in my prayer time, especially in silence, I do hear Jesus talking to me,” Michala says. “I know that might sound really weird, but thoughts or feelings or even instruction or questions will come to my mind. And I’m like, ‘That’s not me. I would not ask that question of myself.’ So I’ve learned to just acknowledge that as the voice of God and the voice of Jesus.”
Even though Michala has enjoyed silence for years, she still had to take a hard look at what she was often doing at adoration. She says it’s easy to feel like we have to fill up the hour with prayers and meditations and books. Although these things are good because God can speak through those as well, leaving time for silence helps to teach us discipline and gives God time to just love us—and us time to love Him back.
Putting aside time for silence with God has helped Michala grow spiritually, especially when it comes to humility. It’s not the silence that creates the growth, but the time spent with the Lord in that silence.
“For me to just not make it be all about me, every minute of my day is not about me, and all of that has helped me be able to work on that humility,” Michala says. “We reside there with the Holy Spirit and with the Lord, and then He can work on us with all of that, the pride and the humility or whatever it is. Those gifts that we seek and those faults that we need to work on the most. Those things that keep us from Him.”
For Mary Jo Gallagher, parishioner at St. John Paul II in Harrisburg, silence calms her and gives her a deep sense of peace. She has come to know that being in silent prayer is where we can hear the voice of God best. She reminds us if we never stop to be quiet, it will be more difficult for God to reveal his will for our lives. When the chaos of life takes over, she goes back to silence which ushers her into the presence of God to hear his voice in her heart.
“Silence moves me to know and do the will of God and be of service to God and others,” Mary Jo says. “If my silence and prayer don’t move me out of myself and towards God, what good is it? I become a clanging gong or crashing cymbal. Silence moves my heart; it calls me to something deeper, to more of God, more of His love, more of His care, tenderness and mercy, and it brings forth the desire in my heart to know him and serve him in a deeper way.”
A quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta probably explains silence best:
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”
Silence can be scary
This silence business can be a frightening thing. Father Traynor has seen it firsthand when leading silent retreats as the executive director at Broom Tree Retreat Center in Irene. Even when someone finally works up the courage to go to a silent retreat, that first day creates a lot of apprehension and fear. It takes a certain amount of courage to be alone with our thoughts, feelings and desires, especially in silence.
Father Traynor says fear is why we pile on the noise in our lives. We’re often afraid of what we might see, what might come up. It’s critical to understand we are not alone. If we can set fear aside and deal with what Fr. Traynor calls “a gnawing unhappiness” that we try to drown out with more and more noise, we can meet God in the silence.
“If I realize I’m not alone in the silence, but I’m with God who loves me unconditionally, I don’t need to fear whatever comes in my heart because whatever’s there, if I don’t like it, well, as long as I offer that to God and ask him with his love to come into those thoughts, feelings, and desires and rearrange them or give me new ones, He will do that. And He wants to do that because He wants our happiness and what’s best for us,” Father Traynor says.
He has seen over and over again how those on silent retreat change after just one day. The apprehension is gone; the fear is gone. When people take the leap into silence with God, they’re never disappointed. They always find His love there.
“There’s something about entering generously and courageously into silence that expands our experience of what God can accomplish in us. It opens up a new fullness of receptivity to the grace and blessing in the work of God,” Father Traynor says. “There’s an invitation of love to come away by ourselves and rest.”
Michala and Mary Jo agree that silence can be scary because we fear what we might find out about ourselves as well as what God might ask of us. We might even be afraid of our own interior voice that says we aren’t good enough or something is wrong with us. But God is always waiting for us to take a step toward him, waiting for us to respond to his call.
Silence makes its mark
Silent retreats have helped both Mary Jo and Michala further challenge their pursuit of a relationship with God through silence. Even with busy schedules, they have felt it’s as important as anything in their lives.
For Michala, the first silent retreat was challenging, but she went into it with a serious heart and respect for the other retreatants. Once she got into a rhythm, she knew she had made the right decision to be there.
“The relief my body felt and just being quiet and knowing I didn’t have to say anything to anyone and having that quiet time, that time to decompress, that I think is so vital in our world right now,” Michala said.
Mary Jo had been going to a silent retreat every year but not really embracing silence in her everyday life. Her spiritual director challenged her to change up her prayer life by setting aside her devotions and other prayers. Instead, he told her to sit in silence for five minutes every day. When she got distracted, she was to simply say, “Jesus, I give you permission to love me.” She gradually increased her time to 20 minutes and now never misses that silent prayer time.
“It is during times of silence that I experience the deepest spiritual consolation, times when I can sink into his presence and feel his pursuit of my heart and know his nearness, experience his great love for me and know his tender care and mercy and rest in the peace that only He can bring into my life,” Mary Jo says.
Father Traynor’s most memorable moment of silence was preceded by a lot of moments of noise while at a convent in Assisi, Italy. He was there to spend some quiet time with God and tell him that he loved him. It’s a bit of a long story, so if you want the detailed version, you’ll have to ask Father Traynor.
Over seven days, he tried each day to spend time in silence. Every day his silence was interrupted by all manner of noise, from loud Germans to floor buffers, from scouts singing to miter saws and tourists. No matter where he went to find silence, it eluded him.
At a small chapel where he was interrupted once again, Father Traynor finally had enough. He let his frustration out and screamed at the top of his lungs that he could get no peace! It was all noise, noise, noise!
“Right into the middle of that rant,” Father Traynor said, “I hear Jesus clear as a bell in my heart say, ‘Scott, at every moment of your life, I come to you. And all I want to do is to be with you and tell you that I love you. But all I ever find is noise, noise, and noise. Be still and know that I am God.’”
He thought the world was going to end, but the rebuke was so sweet and full of love, Father Traynor said he felt totally convicted.
“I’m like, Lord, if this is what it’s like to be rebuked by you, rebuke me every day. This was so amazing, and that has really made me a disciple of silence,” he said.
Silence of the heart
Michala reminds us that instead of continuing to move at Mach speed all the time, we need to take time to just give God a “chance to look at us, and for us to just recognize him,” even if we are looking at a tree or a beautiful blue sky. Don’t miss the chance to spend time with Him.
Father Traynor hopes more people will treat themselves to the gift of silence and find more peace, happiness and a day-to-day sense of wellbeing.
“Silence is not an end in itself, but it’s a tremendous tool to help us grow in relationship with God for these reasons: amplifying and slowing down what’s in my heart so I can share that with God,” he says, “and being able to listen to God and experience the reality of His being with me and speaking His love into my heart.”
Mary Jo’s heart longs to be in the silence with God.
“‘Silence until the world be no more,’ a silence so deep that the rest of the world falls away and I’m drawn into the heart of God just to be with him.”
How to get silence into your life
“Give yourself a little bit of time to just quietly take a shower, take in the benefits of the warm water that we’re blessed with. Find small ways of starting to introduce that silence into your day. So if it’s a radio when you go into your car, if you’ve got your radio on automatically, shut your radio off and just drive to wherever you’re going in silence. And maybe even intentionally put aside that time and just say, ‘Lord, I’m going to take this time to listen to you. Let me hear what you want me to hear, direct me the way you want to direct me. Let me just calm down.’”
“I don’t think people should feel intimidated that they have to start off with an hour of silence every day, or a whole day of silence or a retreat of silence.”
Michala also says to remember that silent time with the Lord is just as (or more) important as volunteering at church. Doing things shouldn’t be evidence of validation in our faith. We have to work on our faith and our relationship with God by intentionally pursuing Him and teaching ourselves discipline she says.
Mary Jo Gallagher
“To find silence in our busy lives, we may need to make sacrifices to make space for it. By this I mean sacrificing time spent elsewhere, watching TV, reading a book, sometimes even sacrificing sleep, and then having a set time and place. Start small, set aside five minutes a day to be quiet and invite God in. Put away all of the distractions, set a timer for five minutes and just pray, ‘Jesus, I give you permission to love me.’ When your mind wanders, as it will, come back to that, ‘Jesus, I give you permission to love me, to love me in those hard to love places; I give you permission to love me in my sinfulness, when I’m yelling at my kids, or frustrated with the people in my life, in my sadness, in my business, and I give you permission to love me in my joy.’”
“Silence requires discipline, sacrifice and perseverance. It doesn’t just happen; we have to create space for silence in our lives and in our hearts. I had to be willing to set aside time to be quiet and listen. It requires me to create a quiet place in my home where I can draw away to be quiet without distraction, especially when I was first introduced to silence. As the years have gone by I have learned to draw away and be quiet within myself even with the noise of the world, to just be for a bit with God and let the distractions around me go and rest in his peace.”
“Make a plan and do your best to stick to it. When you fall, start again, persevere and never give up. It’s worth it!”
Father Scott Traynor
“It was Blaise Pascal who said ‘What’s wrong with the world is man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone by himself.’ That was a very penetrating analysis. And so people have that fear, that apprehension, but when they enter into it with generosity, it becomes much easier. And then they find that they love it. And they’re like, when can I do this again?
“And there’s actually choices we can make in daily life to embrace more silence. I’m a big news junkie and it’s easy for me to turn on a podcast or whatever news program as I’m driving around. But I just have to intentionally take some of that drive time and just to be quiet and see what’s going on in my heart and then turn to God with that. And it’s a great blessing.”
“That would be my invitation for our readers. Treat yourself. I’m just going to take some alone time and turn my heart to God, talk to him about whatever comes up in my heart. You’ll be surprised what comes up. If you choose a little silence and share that with God and ask God to speak to your heart, you’ll experience him speaking of his love for you, because this is what he does at every moment.”