When I was reading the autobiography of Thomas Merton I remember that he was struck by the power of the above words in connection with his vocation to the Cistercians. “You will remain silent …” – these words have a certain ‘haunting’ quality to them. By this I mean that this command to be silent has a mysterious quality to it that seems to take you out of the world as we experience it. We live in a world that is very noisy and filled with words. Most of us live our lives being constantly bombarded with advertising slogans in the media, answering or making telephone calls, listening to and watching television and the radio. Our minds are constantly filled with noise, at least at a background level.
One of the things that attracted Merton to the Cistercians was the call to be silent. It is in the silence that we are best able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, as there is not so much competition. However, the silence of the monastic life is not just a physical silence, it is also a silence of our whole beings that slowly attunes us to be more attentive to God in all things. The regular rhythm of life in a monastery helps the monk to put aside all interior noise as well as exterior noise and thus attune his or her heart to the voice and leading of God.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the angel silences Zechariah is so that he can learn to be more reflective. Perhaps the silence will help him to attune his mind and heart more fully to the voice of God. This is the underlying reason for silence on retreats. The silence takes away the distractions and helps us to pray. The silence gives us a better chance to hear God’s voice in the midst of all the other voices that are a daily experience for us. It can be difficult to maintain the silence over a long period of time, but the effort is worth it if it helps us to be more attuned to the voice of the Spirit guiding us in our lives.
Do I ever set time aside from my busy life to silence myself before God in order to better listen to His voice? Why not ring up a retreat place and enrol for a silent retreat?
Lord Jesus, you constantly listened for the voice of your Father as you went about your daily life. Help me to listen to His words and so be obedient to His will.