I am a restaurant voyeur. It’s one of those things I get from my mother. Although she died when I was in my 20s, I well remember our dining adventures. Whenever we ate out, we enjoyed creating our own little scenarios about the people we saw eating at nearby tables. I still find myself doing that.
When I was younger and saw couples having dinner together, I always thought I could tell if they were married or not just by observing their conversation or lack thereof. If they were chatting non-stop and laughing at one another’s jokes, I figured it must be early in the relationship, perhaps even a first date. But if they ate without exchanging more than a few words, I assumed they had been married a long time and had either: a) run out of things to say, b) grown bored with one another, or c) things had gotten so bad that they were no longer on speaking terms. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to realize that there is another possible explanation for their lack of conversation. Perhaps they are so comfortable with one another that they don’t need to talk.
Being comfortable with silence in one another’s presence is a sign of depth in a relationship. That’s true, not only for our relationships with other people, but also for our relationship with ourselves, and it’s certainly true for our relationship with God.
I always wonder what’s going on with people who can’t tolerate silence. Like the ones who have the TV or music going 24/7 in their homes. Noise becomes an addiction that they can’t live without. I suspect it’s not so much because they crave noise as it is because they're so uncomfortable with silence.
Inside each of us a God-shaped hole that we try to fill with all kinds of stuff that will never satisfy us, like drugs, sex, food, work, exercise, shopping… noise. The more we have, the more we want, as we convince ourselves that this is how we’re going to fill the hole. But it never works. Because only God can fill our God-shaped hole.
The fact is, inside that God-shaped hole, within the void, is where we actually meet God-- in times of silence.
Sometimes this happens during public worship, although I am painfully aware of how uncomfortable many people are with moments of silence in worship. They rustle and fidget and resist it so much that I would assume there is no God for them in that silence. (As a Lutheran, I envy the Quakers in those moments.)
We can all enter into times of silence intentionally, in our private or shared lives, by practicing contemplative prayer (also called centering prayer). It’s not like the prayers we say that are confined to words--prayers where we chatter away at God, perhaps telling God what we’d like God to do, all bound up in our brains, filling the God-shaped hole with our projections and assumptions about God so that the true God has no place to enter in.
Contemplative prayer is opening ourselves to God, letting go of our agendas and thoughts, so that we can remove the empty space-fillers from our God-shaped holes and allow God to enter in. It’s a time to synchronize our hearts with God’s. This is a practice that I am growing to appreciate more and more, as silence has become for me, not something to be avoided, but a welcome friend.
If you're longing for a deeper connection with God and this is a practice that you'd like to explore, please give yourself permission to try. It may mean working through your discomfort with silence. You probably won't get there in one sitting, but if you stick with it, it will change your life. (I know it may sound presumptuous of me to make such a claim, but I truly believe this.)
Here are some websites you might find helpful:
https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/ (the app is great!)
https://cac.org/ (Sign up for the daily meditations which are delivered to your inbox.)