“Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind, a turning around,” - John Cage, composer, artist, scholar.
Silence’s association is wide and varied. I used to see it as a way to mete punishment or discipline. As a spiritual discipline, silence is one of the most significant, simplest and in a way easiest to practice, and the most neglected and feared spiritual practices.
Connecting silence to a change of mind and turning around is a compelling reason to teach silence as a contemplative spiritual practices. Repentance is one of the ways God softens a hardened, calloused and cold heart. Repentance (metanoia in Greek – a change of mind, a turning around) in this sense can be very attractive.
Silence is a life-long spiritual practice and ought to be taught early on in childhood. The practice of silence was an important subject for Maria Montessori, a pioneer in modern early childhood education. Montessori sees silence as one of the rudimentary teachings stating that silence had to be taught from pre-school all the way to grad school. Young Samuel and Mary the teenager encountered, heard, and discerned the voice of God from a place of silence and solitude.
How is silence learned, taught and practiced?
Silence can be intimidating, it looms large without words, it is powerful and scary for it lacks a familiar imagery to disarm our often guarded or shallow soul. Silence takes us out of our ordinary and comfort zone of words (acoustic) and imagery ( another form of acoustic) and visceral companionship. In silence we consent to the Holy Spirit to engage our will to faith.
Silence as a prayer is a humbling posture before God.
Silence is taught by giving the space to be heard. John Cage once spoke to an audience without amplification. There were hums, buzz and whispers from the audience while he was speaking. Some audience complained that they couldn’t hear him and John Cage replied saying: “you can’t hear because you are not listening” and soon enough the room is silent and everyone was listening.
Silence is practiced silently. ” Cease striving and know I am God”. It is best practiced with an “empty stomach”- less use of what you know, what you have, and not to be forced upon self.
Silence is practiced by being still and consent to the move of the Holy Spirit. Silence is not creating void and nothing. Apophatic prayers like Centering Prayer, Jesus Prayer and breath prayer opens our heart and mind to God. God works in us to act and to will according to His purposes. Silence is not the end in itself. Following Jesus is the end that doesn’t end.