What Precedes Silence?

Earlier this week the Anonymous God Blogger quoted Ignatius of Antioch on what is required for us to be proper temples for God. She appropriately entitled the post, “Hearing Silence.”

Which got me thinking about silence. Silence is a big thing in Orthodox devotional practice, as it is in all of the mystical traditions. But silence presumes noise, and the question is, what sort of noise precedes the silence to make it a holy or up-building silence? Silence which merely escapes random noise might be pleasant and relaxing, but it is not holy, it is rather neutral.

The silence the fathers talk about must necessarily always be preceded by the Word … not random noise, but the ordered sounds of God speaking to us. Thus, scripture, prayer (and here I don’t mean rambling on to God about me, but rather reading and pondering in the presence of God the psalms, prayers, and spiritual songs that have been penned over the ages), and spiritual reading are the threshold to silence.

In our do-it-yourself spiritual culture it’s easy to assume that one just needs to shut up and meditate … the silence will do you good. But as Ignatius said so eloquently, we’re not talking about silence, as the absence of noise, but rather silence as the apophatic and mysterious side of the Word. “He who possesses the word of Jesus is truly able to hear even His very silence …”

Silence is the space that God created in which his Word can be heard. It’s not emptiness but place. That space is the proper temple of God which we must carefully build within our very being.


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