To hear God’s voice, there are times when we must be attentive and silent. While it’s true that sometimes God speaks to us through another person, or through an event, there are other times when we must be very still, very quiet, very alone.
One of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life took place during a “silent” retreat at the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, Kansas, in February of 2000. The retreat lasted five days and was based upon the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. No speaking was permitted at any time except for a half hour each day when each person on the retreat met with a spiritual director.
I had never been on a silent retreat, and I did not have much confidence before the retreat that I would be comfortable maintaining silence for five straight days. Early in the retreat, my spiritual director told me: “Silence magnifies God’s voice.” She was right.
As we know from Ecclesiastes 3:7, “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Moses had to instruct the Israelites, “Be silent, O Israel, and listen!” Jesus often retreated to the quiet of the desert for prayer, and he instructed His followers: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Thomas Merton, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, writes:
“There should at least be a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.”
The silence we are talking about here does not just mean an absence of speech or sound. This silence also requires that our brain be quiet and still. It means that we try to not have any conscious thought whatsoever. The goal is to simply be with Jesus, be content just to be in His presence and be completely open to whatever message comes from Him.
As Catholics, we have a big advantage with this kind of silence. The very best place on earth to be alone and still with Jesus Christ is in Eucharistic Adoration. I encourage you to find a chapel where Eucharistic Adoration is available. This is the best way to get clarification and confirmation of what you think God’s will is on a particular issue. In addition to whatever prayers and issues you wish to present there, take some time to be quiet and still, with no conscious brain activity. Let Jesus have complete freedom to bring up any subject He wants to. Let Him set the agenda. My guess is that He will frequently surprise you with issues you would not be likely to have raised on your own.
As time goes by, we will learn to be “silent” even when we are speaking. By this I mean that we will be open to hearing God’s voice at any time and in any situation.
Here’s an example of how this worked once in my life. I was at a working lunch with two people in October of 2007. During the conversation, I mentioned what I would do if I did not have the job I currently had. Immediately, I heard the words, “Why don’t you?” I thought immediately, “Is that you, God? Are you serious? Do you have something else that you want me to do right now?”
After work that day, I went to a local chapel where Eucharistic Adoration took place round the clock. I asked God, “Are you okay with my resigning my current position and finding another job?” The words that came to me were, “More than okay.” About 4 months later, God blessed me by giving me a very clear and dramatic confirmation that I had correctly discerned His will.
Our closing verse is from Psalm 27:
“Hear my voice, Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. ‘Come,’ says my heart, ‘seek God’s face;” your face, Lord, do I seek! Do not hide your face from me…you are my help; do not cast me off; do not forsake me, God my savior!”