by Fr. Gregory Buss
The subject of prayer is a vast one and it would be impossible to say all of the things that can be said, and should be said, about it. For that reason I would like to say something about a dimension of prayer that comes from the Christian East and is often overlooked in our busy and noisy American culture. I am not claiming that what I will be sharing is the only way of prayer. But it is a crucial dimension of prayer for those who wish to go deeper into the life of the Spirit. I will refer to it as the Prayer of Silence.
Perhaps the best way to introduce this is with a story. One of our bishops tells of the time when he was a young priest who had just concluded a service in a nursing home. A very old woman came up to him with a question. “Fr. Anthony,” she said, “I have been praying almost constantly over the past 14 years and I never have a sense of God’s presence. No one has been able to tell me what to do about it. You probably don’t know either. But I thought I would ask.” Fr. Antony thought for a moment and said, “Perhaps you’re doing too much talking and not enough listening. Here’s is what I want you to do. Every morning after breakfast go back to your room, take up your yarn and knitting needles and sit in your chair. Place yourself in God’s presence and then just knit in God’s presence for 15 minutes.” The old lady thought that this was very strange advice but she took it. A month later, when Fr. Anthony returned, she said, “It works. I did what you told me. I took out my knitting and asked God to be present. I just sat in the chair and knitted before God. After awhile I noticed a silence. All of a sudden I perceived that the silence was a presence. At the heart of the silence there was He who is all stillness, all peace, all poise.” She had discoved the Prayer of Silence.
Now many of us are not old ladies and do not know how to knit. So let me share with you a “method” that may help you to do what the lady in the nursing home did.
Find a quiet place and get as physically comfortable as possible. Place yourself in the presence of God. You may wish to use a short prayer, a verse from the Bible, or something similar. What ever you choose, say it slowly and with attention. Put yourself into it. Then allow yourself to rest quietly in the presence of God. Allow yourself to be silent. Probably after a very few silent moments you will find yourself getting distracted by your own thoughts, that internal chatter that 2our minds constantly produce. When this happens do not get upset. Instead, very gently say a short prayer a few times and return to the silence. The short prayer should be one that you have chosen ahead of time for this purpose. It may be one word like ‘God’, Or ‘Lord’ or a slightly longer one like “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy’, or ‘Blessed be God’, or ‘Lord, be with me’ or something else that you choose. Do not worry about how many times you are to say it. Let your instinct be your guide. It is like the flight of a seagull who flaps his wings a few times and the”’ glides. The short prayer is the f lapping of the wings and the gliding is the silence. Continue this practice for a few minutes. (You may want to set a timer for somewhere between S and 25 minutes.) When “time is up” conclude by saying a prayer that you choose slowly and deliberately. (Many people choose the Lord’s Prayer.) Then gently ease yourself back into your daily routine.
There are many variations on this “method” all of which are fine. The method is a tool, not an end in itself. The real issue is silence, that forgotten dimension of prayer. As someone once said, “When my silence meets God’s Silence, spiritual growth happens.”
-Fr. Gregory Buss
St. George Orthodox Church
211 E. Minnesota St.
Spring Valley, IL 61362
Written for The Bureau County Republican, Princeton, Illinois.