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Self-knowledge and the spiritual life-Part III of III: Sacred Silence

August 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Self Knowledge, Silence, Spiritual Life

Editor's note: In part two, we discussed how silence is important to self-knowledge.

What is sacred silence? There are many scripture passages that convey important elements of a true God-ward silence. One that is sublimely concise is Psalm 46:10:

Be still, and know that I am God

This passage clearly reveals the type of silence necessary for a God-ward self-knowledge. First, we have the purpose of silence, to know and acknowledge that He is God. Silence apart from this acknowledgment and this pursuit of intimacy with God is a self-centered navel-gazing affair that will yield little more than an empty rest. With God, silence finds its highest value and meaning. It becomes not only restorative but also redemptive. It becomes an act of worship and lays the groundwork for a disposition that can receive the fullness that God has to bring to our souls – including self-knowledge.

The second element necessary for the fruitful pursuit of a sacred silence is to “Be still.” Stillness in this context is best reflected in the idea of the dedicated attention of one's soul to another. As an example, my wife and I are very busy folks. We regularly communicate via text messages, emails, on the phone between meetings, or running errands etc. At times, usually after several months of this type of communication we run into a situation where our ability to connect breaks down. This often happens when we attempt to deal with the weightier issues of life on-the-fly. Sometimes we are looking to be efficient with one another rather than present. When this happens frustration rises. The only remedy is to slow down and spend time face to face, without interruptions, and with the demonstrated commitment that in the time we set aside to connect, there is nothing more important than loving and serving one another. This concentrated encounter captures something of the essence of stillness with God.

So, we have two simple elements that make up a truly sacred silence 1) being alone with and acknowledging God, and 2) being still before God.

The challenge for most of us is that this can seem like a lofty and out of reach ideal. How can we legitimately aspire to this kind of silence when the world demands so much of us? Most of us are not cloistered contemplatives. Most of us battle with an endemic busy-ness. However it is a reality that many among us achieve the goal of silence necessary to know ourselves and God. These will never be in the majority, but God is always calling and equipping willing hearts to enter into a deeper relationship with him.

That said, as with any meaningful accomplishment in life, loving God through this spiritual discipline of silence is not something we can simply snap into existence. It takes time, dedication, commitment and energy to achieve. Breaking away from the Martha-syndrome to achieve something of what Mary understood (Luke 10:42) is more than worth the effort. The lover of our souls is waiting in the silence. Only through silence will we find him and know the love that he has for us there.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.


Seek Him – Find Him – Follow Him


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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Ah, this is an exercise I am learning! (Learning to keep quiet and let the Lord talk.) 🙂

    I look forward to the next post.

  • Guest

    Now,Dan. Here Mary must learn to use her silent day focused on God and trying to hear what He is trying to tell me – guiding, encouraging, correcting or just telling me you are on the right path. How do I distinguish what He is actually telling me? Please advise me on this when you have a moment. God bless you

    • Dear Friend – this question is a bit too complex to answer via internet. I would suggest that you work with your spiritual director on this. They would better understand how God is leading you in prayer and other aspects of holiness. Blessings on you as you seek Him.

  • Sfbierly

    Learning to be still and to let go distractions in order to be in the presence of God is a long journey, but with persistence, God’s grace and love eventually win out over self.

  • LizEst

    Silently awaiting your next post on this!

  • Penguintrble

    I have recently signed up for one hour a week in the adoration chapel. I look forward to the silence and stillness we can and should strive towards. This article spoke to my heart

  • Guest

    Thank you, Dan. You know what? Before you wrote this Article,since the beginning of this year, I had cut out as many distractions from my life as I can. And this was very easy because I live alone and I am a widow and my House Assistant is very religious. So I stopped watching TV, buying newspapers and I hardly have any friends who would distract me because my husband was the only best friend I had and needed. I am, therefore, able to spend my days reading Articles like the ones on your Website and contemplating on the Daily Silent Insight Meditation themes. I then follow the readings recommended by the Eucharistic Divine Mercy Devotion requirements. At 3.00 O’Clock I pray Passion of Christ Divine Mercy Chaplet from the Divine Mercy Website then off I go for my Holy Hour Adoration and conclude my evening with the Holy Mass. In the evening, I am here to catch what Spiritual Direction, Catholic Online and Catholic News Agency and the other Catholic Websites I have subsribed to have posted before the close my day with the Rosary and Evening Prayers. Therefore, while I am waiting to get a personal Spiritual Director, I had already discovered the art of shutting out unecessary clutter in my mind with irrelevanices and decided to concentrate more on trying to learn more and more and deepen my Faith in order to grow Spirituality.

    Thank you, Dan, for your advice. I now must stop procrastinating and find that personal Spiritual Director because you are right I definitely need one. God bless you

  • NT

    Hi ,Have you posted a blog on ways to cultivate silence in the midst of our busy activity filled lives. Because i would really like to read that post and I haven’t been able to find it in this website..
    It would be great if you tell me where to find that post.
    Thanks 🙂

  • NT

    Hi ,
    I was wondering if you posted something on ways to cultivate silence in the midst of our busy activity filled lives. Because i would very much like to read it and i haven’t been able to find that post
    Could you please send me a link or let me know where is the post situated in this website
    Thank you very much 🙂

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