Daily Meditations

Drawn to Interior Silence

The practice of contemplation quiets the noise that goes on in our heads and allows inner silence to expand. This expanding inner silence is a wide and fertile delta that embraces the mud, reeds, and rushes of all sound, whether delightful or disruptive. Initially, however, the practice of contemplation can strike us as frustratingly awkward, and we react to everything within and without.

Though we feel drawn to interior silence, what we find when we turn within is a strong headwind of distractions. There is a characteristic, dominating tendency to identify with these thoughts: we think we are these thoughts and feelings. Thoughts seem to be a solid obstruction to peace to such an extent that we are caught up and pulled right into them. But gradually our practice begins to take root. We learn that our practice is, as die author of The Cloud of Unknowing puts it, “to be your shield and your spear,” providing effective protection from die way distractions snag us. Gradually we learn that we are not these thoughts and feelings that come and go any more than we are the weather that comes and goes. We may indeed prefer a certain type of weather, but we are not the weather.

When prayer becomes second nature to us, it becomes more than a spear or a shield or a place of refuge: but an endlessly flowing inner spaciousness in which we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Therefore, we do not have to flee from our life circumstances or from our thoughts and feelings (yet we are free to if common sense so dictates). These thoughts and feelings are themselves porous to this spacious flow; they, too, manifest the silence we seek. But we do not see this simple fact in the early seasons of practice.

Chattering commentary about our thoughts and feelings, about life in general, creates a sense of obstruction of this flow as well as an inner sense of tight, reactive grip and anxiety. The practice of contemplation gradually loosens this grip, revealing life as luminous flow. Even the thoughts and feelings, which were previously the most distracting obstacles to inner peace, are now seen to be vehicles of it. Distraction is related to the operatic commentary, not to the simple presence or absence of thoughts and feelings.

Whether or not we need to use an explicit prayer word anymore, our practice is simply luminous vastness. What beholds this flowing vastness is also luminous vastness.

The threshold of our own depths leading into Christ’s depths is at the same time the threshold of Christ’s depths into ours. A single threshold, a single doorway. We move through these doorways, yet each doorway is itself the very fullness that renders our searching useless. The mystery of the God we seek circulates in ever-moving repose through us and in us. Christ reveals God as both door and doorway, both seeker and sought.

For all our striving and attempts to negotiate the riddles and doorways of silence, the practice of contemplation can no more deliver the gift of contemplation than the most skillful sailor can make the wind blow. But without sailing skills the voyage would be reckless. The contemplative, whose skills are trained by the storms and trials of this path, discovers the joy that, while we can never grasp God, God nevertheless does nothing but graciously give to us, ground us, and embrace us. Such is the nature of God’s simplicity.

~Adapted from Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence:  Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation