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Father Muench Says...

Creating some space for God with silence

March 22, 2017

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Each year we read the Gospel story of the Transfiguration on the Second Sunday of Lent.  It is a rather curious story, wouldn’t you say? Jesus takes three apostles, Peter, James and John, up a mountain, Mount Tabor. It’s not a big mountain like the Adirondacks but it’s a fairly good hike. 

Once up the mountain, something rather curious happens.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus was transfigured – his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.  I think Jesus wanted to impress these apostles, give them confidence, to face the shocking events of Christ’s Passion.

This must have been a well-remembered story since all three synoptic evangelists tell this story.

During this incident we are told that they were overshadowed by a cloud and, from that cloud, a voice speaks out. Obviously, it’s the voice of God the Father who says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”

Prayer is about listening.  I believe that each day of our lives the Lord longs to reach us, coming to us with love and compassion as well as with his challenges for us to live out our discipleship. 

The Lord touches our lives in many surprising ways – not as flamboyant as in this Transfiguration story – but just as real.  Too often we do not recognize the Lord’s message, we fail to listen.  We need some silence.

You and I live in a very noisy world.  We are constantly turning something on just for the noise of it all.  Noise can be rather addictive for us.  We seem to need the noise of the television or the radio or whatever to fill up the silence.  All of this noise doesn’t leave space for the Lord to reach us. We are not listening: we need silence to give God some space.

My favorite saint, Thomas Merton, wrote a great deal about silence.  It seems rather obvious that a Trappist monk would understand the importance of silence.  These monks do not need or want all that noise that we think is so important.

I would like to share some ideas on silence from Merton.  I discovered an essay by Merton in a book of his Essential Writings.  He wrote this essay in 1968 at the request of some college students from the University of Louisville and titled it “Creative Silence.” He challenges his readers to discover the power of silence.

Merton writes this in an attempt to understand silence:  “Silence has many dimensions.  It can be a regression and an escape, or a loss of self or it can be a presence, awareness, unification, self-discovery.” 

I know that in my own life there have been times when I used silence as an escape.  I have blocked out myself from others, nothing to write, no listening.  No one could reach me, especially the Lord.

I have learned that prayer becomes my solution to such times, to loneliness and emptiness. For prayer to be effective in my life silence is necessary.  In silence, I can give the Lord space to be part of my life.  In silence, I can listen without interference. In silence, I can find the Lord and find myself.

Merton goes on: “Positive silence pulls us together and makes us realize, who we are, who we might be, and the distance between these two.  In prayerful silence, listening to the Lord, we discover so much about ourselves. Who are we?  We are a loved people.  Jesus demonstrates God great love for us through his life, sufferings, death and resurrection. We must live like a loved person.  Where I allow God to be part of my life in prayerful silence.  I become a true disciple of the Lord.  Those moments of silence bring Jesus more completely into our lives.  When we give the Lord space, we find our true self.”

Merton further adds: “Hence, positive science implies a disciplined choice, and what Paul Tillich called the courage to be.” This is what Lent is about – a time to decide to draw closer to the Lord.  Lent is about courage – to give some space to our God by listening, by praying, by giving up something.

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