Silence as Conversation

I heard that when Henri Nouwen used to teach workshops to seminarians on prayer, he would begin by gathering the class together (and of course they were in rapt attention), say a few words, then request that they sit in silence—for four hours!

Nouwen would observe that the seminarians would squirm and fidget during the first two hours before finally sitting still. What Nouwen concluded and what his students learned was that, in our cultural cacophony of distractions, it takes two whole hours to block out the noise, and that only then can we begin to listen to the Spirit of God.

4 thoughts on “Silence as Conversation

  1. Wow – really like that. I know during my prayer time in the morning I have to wait and be still for what seems like a very long time before I can really begin to pray.

  2. Maharishi used to say that there were two types of folks, monks and householders. Nouwen’s exercise is showing the benefit of monastic practice, but that is not practical for those of us who are householders. I think the Celts had it right. Practicing the presence of God in activity will work for most. If you recite the names of the Trinity as you miilk the cow, you are making sacred the mundane. I think we need to add more silence and structure to our prayer lives, but Nouen’s method is doomed to fail in the world of householders. Mindfulness of our connection to the kingdom in all we do is possible though. Let’s try the Celtic methods, not those of the monks. Oh, and let’s throw away the TV.

  3. Thank you for posting this exercise in conjunction with the other post on silence. I can imagine Jesus sitting in prayer as such with intensity and duration.

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