“I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:2
Centering prayer and meditation have an interim goal and a final goal – like a mountain peak that you aim at as the waypoint towards your ultimate destination beyond. Silent stillness is the interim goal, and it takes you towards the ultimate goal which is God’s presence, transformation and greater spiritual consciousness.
By “silent stillness” we mean ever deepening levels of stillness of our inner world as Jesus described in Matthew 6:6 as the posture for prayer, “enter your inner room, close the door”, which clearly have a symbolic meaning.
There are at least 9 benefits of silence that are each transformative:
- Silence improves the health of our brains, giving us much needed time in “alpha mode” and a break from the intense “beta mode” that arises from cognitive processing, worrying, coping with busy lives and responding to technology that our brains are engaged with most of the time. Excessive time in “beta” not balanced by “alpha” leads to anxiety, aggression, addiction and rut-like thinking.
- Silence produces mental clarity and greater creativity. When we spend time in alpha mode, it unlocks the fuller potential of our brains – cognitive processing improves, logic is sharper, memory improves and creativity rises. We unlock the power both of the left brain and the right brain.
- Silence increases your mental and physical energy.
- Silence is an entryway into God’s presence. Thomas Keating says that “silence morphs into God’s presence“. God’s presence is inside of us but we are not attuned to it most of the time because we are buzzing around elsewhere. Silence removes the obstacles to recognizing His presence, so that He can begin to work powerfully within.
- Silence is a refining process that purifies the false drives within us. Silence is a bit like melting metal where the impurities float to the top. God’s presence is the heat that begins to radiate in silence and all sorts of rubbish from our false self and unhealthy drives for happiness bubble up in our thoughts. When we continually let these go to return to silence in meditation times, we allow them to “float up and out” of our lives, removing their attachment to mental processes in which they are embedded.
- Silence helps us to “let go” of unhealthy attachments. A lot of our energy is sucked up by unhealthy attachments, and these rear up when we are silent. When we let go of them to return to silent, we’re undergoing a workout that gives us freedom. For example, if we have a resentful situation with someone, it will come up in our meditation time, and as we let go of it, we will become free of it. We’re “exercising the muscle action of forgiveness” which is an action of the heart.
- Silence transforms your identity. By being still, we slowly come to realize that “I am not my mind” and we identify more with the inherent essential created nature that God placed inside of us which creates greater confidence and energy. We understand that you are sharing in the “life of Christ”, and that His life is becoming our life.
- Silence brings greater peace and tranquility. This is a direct product of experiencing God’s presence, but also of the refining process and the realization of our true identity.
- Silence increases our spiritual sensitivity or, put otherwise, it raises us to higher levels of consciousness. Silence and God’s presence adds a richness to life that feels like we’ve moved from black and white to color, or we’ve discovered a new dimension, a 4th dimension that we’re connected to, that is the beauty and sweetness behind the 3rd dimensional world
In the last session we discussed faith vs non-faith based meditation methods. The latter would perhaps not acknowledge some of these benefits, and attribute everything to neurological factors. However, in our Christian faith based approach of centering prayer, we understand that all of these benefits are rooted in the experience of God’s presence within us, and its transforming power. In centering prayer, God’s presence is the wellspring from which Living Water flows to our body, mind, brain, personality, emotions and neediness. These are all linked because we are an integrated being comprised of spirit, soul and body that are all mysteriously connected.
The invitation to this meditation practice is based on the reality, the singular truth, that God’s presence dwells within us through Christ, and that by silence we remove the barriers to become more attentive to His presence. We’re not trying to access His presence because we have already accessed it – we’re becoming aware of what we already have.
The lesson then for centering prayer, is to aim at this mountain peak of silence, on the broader path of the ultimate goal that is deeper experience of Christ’s presence within.
The clip below from Thomas Keating brilliantly describes the beauty of silence.
This is the 4th session of an eight-week introductory course to centering prayer and Christian meditation. Most sessions are recorded live from a group that meets each Saturday morning in a boardroom in Houston, Texas, with video-call participants from Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the US. Access the other introductory sessions here.
Addendum: Some Biblical Back-Up
Here are a selection of the Hebrew and Greek words used for “stillness” and “silence” in 14 verses of the Bible. Pondering on these will help you get a better grasp of God’s intention for silent prayer.
Damam – “be silent, still, cease, wait”
Psalms 131:2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Psalms 37:7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Psalm 4:4 Meditate in your heart upon your bed and be still.
Psalm 62:5-6 My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken.
Lam 3:24-26 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and be silent.
Raphah – “sink, relax, abandon, cease, let go”
Psalms 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Josh 1:5 “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.”
Charash – “be silent, case, still”
Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will quiet you in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
Exodus 14:13-14 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”
Prov 17:28 Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
“Has” – Keep Silent
Zech 2:13 Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.
Neh 8:10-11, Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”
Sige – “Hush, Silence”
Revelation 8:1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
Perimeno – “Wait, Abide, Remain”
Acts 1:4 Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”