For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

Psalm 62:1

Silence is not always a good thing. There is involuntary silence, forced silence, and unwelcome silence. And there is silence that can be chosen as the easier way out, when speaking up is the better choice. But silence is an important aspect of prayer, especially if we think of prayer as not just talking to God, but also listening to God. As Eugene Peterson says, “Talk in prayer is essential but it is also partial.  Silence is also essential.“

The kind of silence that is essential to prayer can be challenging to find in our noisy, busy world. So, I thought I would share here some of my favorite quotes on silence, particularly as they relate to prayer, to remind us of why it is such a vital aspect of our spiritual lives.

Silence of the heart is necessary so you can hear God everywhere — in the closing of the door, in the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers, in the animals.
Mother Teresa

Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Word of God must be heard in the silence of the heart, the place in which it can be welcomed and given space so that it might become creative.
Esther de Waal

Souls of prayer are souls of great silence. We cannot put ourselves directly in the presence of God if we do not practice internal and external silence.
Mother Teresa

Silence shows you what you are suffering from.
Kathleen Norris

Any trial that comes to you can be conquered by silence.
Abbot Pastor, Sayings of the Desert Fathers

If he is not edified by my silence, there is no hope that he will be edified by my words.
Abbot Pambo, Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The Father spoke from all eternity just one word. And he spoke it in an eternal silence. And it is in silence that we hear him.
St. John of the Cross

Silence is the language of God. It is also the language of the heart.
Dag Hammarskjold

Silence is God’s first language. Everything else is a poor translation.
Thomas Keating

The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.
Mother Teresa’s “Simple Path”

Talk in prayer is essential but it is also partial.  Silence is also essential.
Eugene Peterson

To counteract this age of too many decibels, the way of silence and stillness in prayer speaks to us of a deep human need and a spiritual path that is rooted in the ‘inner desert’ of the heart where the Spirit is waiting.
Paul Harris

Silence  … is the room Jesus told us to enter into when we pray.
Thomas Merton

Silence and solitude are the supreme luxuries of life.
Thomas Merton

Preaching the word of God implies silence. If preaching is not born of silence, it is a waste of time.
Thomas Merton

It may happen occasionally that I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition [of the Lord’s Prayer] that I forego the other six. If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers.
Martin Luther

Insofar as the church proclaims Christ, it must fall down in worshipful silence before the unspeakable. God’s Word is unspeakable. Speaking of Christ originates in silence. Silence about Christ is the ground of speech. This is what it means to make an obedient response to the revelation of God that occurs in the Word. The speaking of the church through silence is the proper proclamation of Christ. Prayer requires both silence and crying out at the same time, both in the presence of God in response to God’s Word.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In Scripture we can also find a number of important quotes on silence. Here are a few:

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
Psalm 62:1

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven … a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength.
Isaiah 41:1

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!
Habakkuk 2:20

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
1 Kings 19:11-12

Jesus did not directly speak of silence, but demonstrated its importance throughout his ministry. After being baptized by John, he spent forty days in the wilderness by himself, clearly a time of silence and prayer. During his ministry, he would wake up before the others and find a deserted place to pray. Before important moments in his ministry, like naming the twelve apostles, Jesus would spend time alone in prayer. Over and over again Jesus taught us, through his life, that silence and prayer are intimately linked.

There is certainly a time to speak. Silence is not always what we are being called to do. But speaking out of silence and prayer is ultimately what scripture teaches us to do. And how blessed we are when we are able to do that, to wait in silence, and then to speak a word of peace and hope.

To come back to Thomas Merton once more, a closing prayer of his that is one of my favorite’s:

To be here with the silence of Sonship in my heart is to be a center in which all things converge upon you.  That is surely enough for the time being.  Therefore, Father, I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it the word of your peace and the word of your mercy and the word of your gentleness to the world.  And that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.

2 thoughts on “Silence and Prayer

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