Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Hearing God's Word amid the Silence

"Silence is more eloquent than words," according to the Scottish writer and historian Thomas Carlyle.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to talk. But I understand the value of being quiet. So I took a recent 48 hour retreat of silence. I am not contemplative by nature, but I needed to get away from the noisiness of everyday and listen to God and to my own heart.


Where does one go where silence and quietness is valued and practiced? One nearby place is the Monastery of the Holy Spirit just a few miles away in Conyers, GA. This monastery was established in 1944 when 21 Trappist monks arrived in rural Georgia to begin a new community devoted to God's word and the contemplative life.


There are 40 monks who currently live, work and pray at the monastery. Typically a monk's day is divided up into regular and formal times for prayer, reading, and work. They arise at 3:45 a.m. in the morning then gather in the church at 4:00 a.m. for prayer and worship. They gather again at 7:00 a.m.  for Morning Prayer and to celebrate Mass. After breakfast they work until Midday Prayers at noon. Work again in the afternoon is followed by Vespers at 5:20 p.m. and the day closes with prayer in the church at 7:30 p.m.  Meals are eaten in silence and silence prevails after eight o'clock each evening. Through their liturgy, the entire Book of Psalms, all 150 of them, are read/prayed every two weeks.


The monastery has a Guest House for anyone to come for personal or group retreats. Guests are invited to participate with the monks in the various times of prayer and meditation. Although I did not make the 4:00 a.m. Vigils, my spirit was refreshed through the other shared times of prayer and by the beauty and the tranquility of the place.


After Evening Prayer on my first night, I sat on a bench in front of the Guest House and watched the glorious sunset. In the silence of that moment from deep within my soul, I could hear the music and the words of a hymn: "Blessed quietness, holy quietness, calm assurance in my soul.  On the stormy sea He speaks peace to me, and the billows cease to roll."


During those two days of retreat, with only two or three minor exceptions, I did not speak and no one spoke to me. Other retreatants and I greeted each other with a smile and a nod of the head. Words were not necessary.


The words of the Psalms and prayers in the Abbey church were mainly all the spoken language that I heard for 48 hours. But I engaged in significant holy conversation with God and myself through silence. I was amazed at how many hymns, praise choruses, and scripture that sprang up from my sub-conscious. I worshipped God silently but genuinely.


During that brief time of respite I caught a glimpse of what Mother Teresa meant when she said:


"We cannot find God in noise and agitation. Nature, trees, flowers, and grass grow in silence. The stars, the moon, and the sun move in silence.


What is essential is not what we say but what God tells us and what He tells others through us.

In silence He listens to us; in silence He speaks to our souls. In silence we are granted the privilege of listening to His voice."


I believe that God is present with us at all times and in all places. I also know that there are times when the noise around me prevents me from hearing God speaking to me. I need to find God in my everyday and it is difficult to hear God in noise and restlessness. It is not necessary to go away for a period, but it is important to create opportunities in the regular routines to enable the voice of God to be heard.


I need to hear and heed the words of the psalmist, "Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)."

Jamie Jenkins

Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," May 21, 2012. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.