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SILENCE IS A RARE COMMODITY THESE DAYS, AND SERENITY SOMETIMES SEEMS LIKE A LONG LOST DREAM. In our fast-moving, wired-for-speed society, even our down time is filled with sound and fury. Sitting down for a few minutes of concentrated silence can feel like an exercise in futility as we’re bombarded by both obvious and subtle noises that distract our minds and stress our souls, from the ding that breaks the peace and quiet with worries of an incoming work email, to the tuneful chime that snaps us out of our solitary reverie with reminders of clothes in need of folding.

 

In some ways, it seems like a losing battle. It’s tempting to think that it would be easier to simply accept the constant buzz and whir as the new status quo. But when we do that, we risk drowning out the still small voices inside that call us to prayer, creativity, solitude, and, ultimately, serenity.

If our goal is to find serenity through silence, it helps if we start by defining “serenity.” What exactly are we seeking through those quiet moments when we listen for the whisper of the Spirit? In the first part of a prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, we pray: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

So serenity is an interior attitude, a space where we are not shaken by problems and fears, where we navigate the ups and downs of our lives knowing that things are unfolding as they should. So how do we get there? In silence.

 

Beneath the Chaos of Daily Life

Saints and sages, medical experts and business leaders, spiritual teachers and self-help gurus alike all agree that even a few minutes of dedicated silence on a regular basis can transform our day, our life, and our eternity. Face to face with God in the quiet, we begin to hear the low-but-constant drumbeat of our long-overlooked spiritual selves.

Father Jonathan Morris, in his book The Way of Serenity, talks about the fact that if we go through life like a hamster furiously spinning on its wheel, we will never move forward or have the opportunity to live fully.

“We are called to something higher. We are called to reflect, to contemplate, to examine, to explore, and to consider,” he writes. “Yet nowadays we always seem to have something more important to do than simply to think about our lives—where we are going, how we are living, what sort of people we are trying to be.”

Father Morris explains that we “cannot find ourselves outside ourselves,” and we cannot find wisdom outside of God. And both of those important elements require us to carve out some silent time away from the hamster wheel of daily life. “It is in interior silence and friendship with God that wisdom flourishes, for the closer we are to God the more easily we discern His plan for our lives,” he says.

When we are finally able to figure out what God’s plan for our life might be or, conversely, stop trying to figure it out at all, we begin to feel the stirrings of real serenity and joy, the kind of happiness that until that point may have seemed elusive, even impossible, but was, in fact, always present. It was simply hidden beneath the chaos of daily life.

 

Placing Ourselves in the Silence

“Serenity is the fruit of silence. I don’t see how serenity can arise out of any experience other than silence…When the wordless experience of God’s grace enters us—or better, arises within us, or suddenly embraces us—we have tasted serenity, and eternity,” says Ken Giovanelli, director of pastoral care at a Pennsylvania retirement community who has long practiced deep silent prayer. “But, as (Thomas) Merton would say, as soon as we have sensed God has arrived, God has already passed. First, find silence—the silence of Christ in God— and then serenity may be given to you. Serenity is not ‘embedded’ somewhere in the silence; it is God’s gracious gift to you.” Giovanelli stresses that in the Christian practice of silent prayer, we do not seek emptiness or detachment, as might be the case in other spiritual traditions, but rather just the opposite. We seek the “silence and eternity of God.”

Of course, that’s not necessarily easy. Anyone who 
has ever sat down to silent prayer knows how quickly “monkey mind” sets in, those interior voices that remind us of every last thing we have to do, from the ridiculous to the sublime, whether we are obsessing over that night’s dinner menu or confronting the personal demons that haunt the recesses of our minds. Silence and, by extension, serenity take practice—prayer practice.

“True silence is beyond ego. Be silent. Do not think: ‘preserve the silence.’ Think: ‘silence preserves me.’ Keeping that in mind helps me to remember that when I enter into silent prayer, when I enter into my heart, I must let go and not strive for anything, even the idea that ‘I am entering into silence, into prayer.’ I must let go of my mind—words and thoughts—and enter the deep heart where the silence of God is always ‘preserving me,’” Giovanelli explains
.

 

Silence Leads to Authentic Relationships

In allowing ourselves to be found by God in the silence, we open the door to true serenity. Pope

Benedict XVI, writing for World Communications Day in 2012, said it is often in silence that the most

“authentic” communication occurs.

“Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In

silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth;

we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we

choose how to express ourselves,” the pope emeritus wrote. “By remaining silent we allow the other

person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas

without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper

human relationships become possible…If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence

the possibility of speaking with God and about God.”

 

 

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