From time to time, you may encounter the young gent with the nervous tic of over-talking. He’s the one who finds himself surrounded by too many bodies, talking to too many ears, being watched by too many eyes, and discovers that no amount of words can escape his mouth to quell his anxiety. And when he has exhausted all efforts to relieve his discomfort, he drops his monologue and has to endure the “awkward silence.”
This inability to avoid lulls in conversation (or reset the previous odd comment) is analogous to the restlessness felt in many a prayer life. When we don’t know what to say or how to proceed, we get stuck and begin simply to think about ourselves praying rather than focusing on God. We think that we must say something more or actively consider some pious notion to really be praying. When the mental dust settles, we find ourselves seemingly alone and spiritually exasperated. The spiritual life seems empty, frustrating, or awkward.
People like to think that others, even God, ought to behave just as we do. If I’m always talking with him, he should be replying just as loudly and clearly as I. We demand the fire, earthquake, and wind, and spend so much time listening to these that, if we take a second to notice it, we’re almost bothered by the whisper.
Prayer should be the most enjoyable activity. It is how we are geared supernaturally to obtaining everlasting happiness in contemplation of the divine. This isn’t an abstract pietism; this is basic Christian teaching. But if this is true, what is so often holding us back?
Perhaps we’ve become like the one with the nervous tic. We speak so much, pouring out our hearts and minds to God, who, for the most part, seems silent. It feels like an injustice, considering that we have ‘tried so hard’ to communicate with the divine only to be forced to put up with an awkward silence.
Yet this silence doesn’t have to be painful. Just as any good repairman or mechanic may simply get to work, so God may not let us in on what’s he’s doing in our soul, lest we decide to try and help him out.
When you’re close with someone, verbal communication isn’t the only form of relating. You may simply enjoy the other’s presence. Time spent together can sometimes be more important than the content of the verbal exchange. A little bit of silence can make for a purer, deeper relationship.
A Trappist monk told me that “we live in the light of God, and yet we wait for it.” Maybe only God knew what he was talking about, but I’d like to think he was indicating the great irony of seeking God when he’s right in front of you, or how we wait for a reply but are too busy chattering over his whisper. Were we simply to show up and listen, his silence may not seem so awkward, or silent, after all. Perhaps the “lull” would turn into something better, something holy, something like “comfortable silence.”
Image: Giuseppe Grimaldi, Alone in the Church