Lenten Practice: Silence
Daily Act: Find a quiet space and allow yourself at least five minutes alone in silence (preferably more). Breathe deeply, paying attention to how your breath feels as it enters your body and as it leaves. Allow your breath to silence your restlessness, activity, and inner noise. Continue to listen to your breath in silence.
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.
“HOLY MYSTERY, I AM SPEECHLESS IN YOUR PRESENCE.”
by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin
It is a long way, these 40 days, and this is where they lead.
It is a mystery so profound that we could live through Lent for another hundred years and still only hold the edges of understanding. We are on the threshold of holy week teetering on the cusp of the call.
Having been here before, we are tempted to believe we already have it figured out. Maybe the invitation is to suspend for a while what we think we know. Maybe we are invited to enter Holy Week with an open, curious, surprisingly willing heart. What is this way of suffering love?
The spiritual tradition has not shied away from the topic of suffering, which may be why many shy away from the spiritual life. From Jesus to St. John of the Cross, we discover this strange mystery that what we most love and most resist are sometimes the very same thing.
This is such a dangerous topic because there are several things suffering is not in the spiritual life.
1. It is not ever a reason to inflict suffering on someone else or to support a system of domination and oppression.
2. The line can sometimes be thin between self-emptying and self-diminishment. Spiritual maturity and constant discernment are required to live the sacrificial way. This is why asceticism has been at times so radically misunderstood.
3. It is not appropriate to say to a person who is in the midst of real physical or emotional suffering that God desires for them to be there. The way of suffering love is chosen, not demanded or manipulated.
4. It is never to be used to diminish the realities of suffering in the world around us. If anything, it enhances our empathetic response.
The latin phrase, via negativa, literally means “negative way” but in the Christian spiritual tradition, it describes the self-emptying required to draw closer in union with God and others. It is a process of detachment from “the specific and knowable” (Ursula King, Christian Mystics) in order to enter into the darkness, or mystery, of God. While we are conditioned to think that darkness is a bad thing, in this case it is more about an incomprehensible fullness. St. John of the Cross describes this darkness as the light of God, which is so bright that it is blinding. The soul, thinking it is abandoned in this blindness is actually closer to God than it has ever been, consumed in what is most real.
This part of our Christian story exemplifies the via negativa. The prayerful agony of Gethsemane and the journey to the cross represent how paradoxically suffering can reveal the fullness of God’s presence even in what feels like God’s absence. We discover again the meeting place between what we resist and what we love.
“Now is the hour of the garden and the night, the hour of the silent offering: therefore the hour of hope: God alone. Faceless, unknown, unfelt, yet undeniably God.” Abbé Monchanin, The Desert: An Anthology For Lent
I will not pretend to understand the full meaning of this week, or even of these forty days leading to this weighted time. I am hesitant about versions of Christianity that have boxed up the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection to pass out to others as a simple salvation formula.
It feels like what is required in this Holy Week time is not a dogged certainty, but a faithful uncertainty. It is an emptying, an unknowing, a dying that leads strangely to new life.
“Simply waiting for God in silence IS prayer.” Ladislaus Boros, The Desert: An Anthology for Lent