On sacred silence


MY spiritual director and I were talking about the image of a “tent” during the past few days of my silent retreat.

“Yeah, I feel like dwelling in God’s tent, like Moses in this week’s Scripture Readings,” I told him, referring to the days of my intimate moments with God.

“Well, I think it’s more like God pitching a tent in your heart,” he responded.

“Wow, I never thought about it that way,” I answered.

It’s true. The quiet days that I spent with God in silence were really about God pitching a tent in my heart. In fact, he has always been in my heart the entire time; I was just not aware of it. So during these past days of the retreat, I allowed his presence and his love to surface and to experience him dwelling in my heart through deep moments of silence.

It’s an awesome experience — one that is incomparable to any mundane leisure or material things. It’s to be one with God. After all, as Martin Laird posits in his book,”Into the Silent Land,” “Communion with God in the silence of the heart is a God-given capacity.”  I would add that it’s the “hidden treasure,” the “pearl of great price” that we can find in our hearts.

Laird explicates: “The grace of salvation, the grace of Christian wholeness that flowers in silence, dispels the illusion of separation. For when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and we have been one with God and we are all one in God (John 17:21).”

This gift of sacred silence is not only for a few people; it’s not only for an elite group of monks, nuns, and priests. It’s a gift that God offers to everyone. It’s the rare commodity that we need nowadays in these crazy noises of social media. Those of us who long for it must do everything to acquire it even for a few minutes of the day.

“Our greatest need is to be silent before this great God…for the only language he hears is the silent language of love,” St. John of the Cross says in his Maxims on Love. Laird echoes his words: “Silence is an urgent necessity for us; silence is necessary if we are to hear God speaking in eternal silence; our own silence is necessary if God is to hear us.”

It’s consequential that the Gospel reading this Sunday on the Feast of Transfiguration fits well into this need for silence in our lives—God pitching a tent in our hearts. After experiencing the awesomeness of Jesus’ Transfiguration, Peter told Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter and the other disciples felt the wonder of silent communion with God. This is why they did not want to leave the mountain.

The sages and saints of the Church call us to nurture sacred silence so we can listen to God and feel his love throbbing in our hearts. St. Augustine is one of these great saints who clamored for this necessity. In his Sermon on the Third Commandments, he says: “The Third Commandment enjoins quietness of heart, tranquility of mind. This is holiness. Because here is the Spirit of God. This what a true holiday means, quietness and rest.”

May we long for and cultivate this quietness of the heart where we can hear God saying, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46). May we listen to our hearts’ desires to be in communion with God in silence! n

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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