John of the Cross said that silence is God’s first language. Mother Teresa (who required two hours of silent daily prayer for her Sisters) said that silence is God speaking to us. Isaac of Nineveh advocated loving silence above all things, because it brings you near the fruit, which the tongue is too weak to interpret. Meister Eckhart said that there is nothing so like God as silence.
Silence then isn’t just a means. In its fullness silence itself is participation in God’s being, which is the depth of our own being. Such intimate participation is available to everyone, across every linguistic and cultural divide, since silence is a language that everyone knows.
Silence thus is living, pregnant, sacred space, open presence before sounds emerge, and from which sounds (including thoughts) emerge. Silence is boundary-less, inclusive of everything, full of possibilities. It is spaciousness that can draw us deeper into reality as it is, deeper into the delicate gracious Presence that inhabits the silence and the words and songs that rise from it. We are left more available to the Holy One’s healing, transforming, enlightening grace, individually and communally.
If the value of such silence is being taught in spiritual formation groups in the life of the church, with help in ways of practicing such receptive prayer during the day, then what’s done in the Sunday liturgy will be that much more natural for people. Such receptive openness can become the seedbed of fuller forms of open awareness in people’s lives.
Valuing silence in the historic Christian Eucharist/Holy Communion Service is doubly needed and appreciated in the context of the flood of noise and often trivial and commercially oriented voices in our culture that can drown out people’s sense of a larger Presence and Voice. People’s deep souls are starved for meaningful space that allows them room to see and feel life from the openness of their spiritual hearts rather than the driven-ness of their over-stuffed minds, an openness where they can touch their own and life’s wholeness in God.
In a few churches today we find a more fully contemplatively oriented Eucharist taking place at some time other than Sunday mornings, for people who find the Presence more palpable in a Service with fewer words and more pregnant silences. For many years I have led a particular form of ecumenical contemplative Eucharist during Shalem programs and retreats that is shared on Shalem’s web site.
I have varied the words of this form from time to time, so there is nothing sacred about the particular phrases chosen. The words seek to open a more intimate sense of non-dual presence: God in and among as well as beyond us; God not defined away from us but sensed immediately present, deeper than the words; God as the living, pregnant, personal Silence who mysteriously whispers tough and soft love songs among us, and weaves us into Love’s Body, through water, bread, wine, cross and our lived experience of grace.
This is an excerpt from Tiden’s “Contemplative Possibilities in Corporate Worship/Liturgy.”