Silent night: Listening in Advent

| Elizabeth Kelly | December 2, 2015 | 0 Comments
Elizabeth Kelly

Elizabeth Kelly

Last October, I took my 82-year-old mom on a silent retreat. The priest who led the weekend told the following story.

He had been teaching second-graders when the subject of prayer arose and he simply asked, “How do you talk to Jesus?” Hands shot up. The first child called upon said, “First, you have to shut up.”

The priest smiled and was heartened. More hands waved in the air and he called on a second student. The child said, “Then, you have to crawl into his lap.”

Moved, the priest was ready to end the conversation there. But with hands still waving he called on a third student. She added with an expression that said, “You almost missed the most important thing”: “Then you have to put your ear really close to his mouth.”

Truly, how often God comes to the listening heart, the heart poised for hearing, moving in close, waiting in quiet. An angel came to deliver the message “blessed are you among women” to the heart most ready to listen and receive. Advent always invites us to a fresh interior listening, a perpetual silent night of waiting for the Lord.

When was the last time you had a “silent night?” How do you prepare for that most sacred of silent nights?

If you follow the wisdom of those children, the first thing you have to do is get still, take yourself to a quiet place to pray — and to listen. Holy hours constantly filled with petitions, lamentations, even thanksgiving and praise do not leave time for listening.

Don’t misunderstand, the Lord is a great lover of lamentation and thanksgiving. Some of his favorites, like King David, were skilled lamenters. But today I am asking you, in this quiet season of waiting, of holy, hidden anticipation — “O come, O come Emmanuel” — does your prayer include silence, the prayer of quiet?

Silence before the Lord is a great act of love and trust. It disciplines the heart. Silence assumes that what I have to say is never going to be more important than what God has to say. As Robert Foster has written, “Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification.”

You cannot encounter the life of the Church without this radical invitation to silence before the Lord. John of the Cross writes, “The Father spoke one word from all eternity and he spoke it in silence, and it is in silence that we hear it.”

Or consider the Psalms: “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (62:1). Or the prophets: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” (Hb 2:20). Silence speaks to the essence of God in a way that words do not. It creates room for authentic awe.

Give your Advent this gift: Get quiet, crawl into the lap of the Lord, draw very close and then . . . listen.

Kelly is an award-winning speaker and the author of five books, including “Reasons I Love Being Catholic.” A parishioner of St. Michael in Stillwater, she is trained as a spiritual director in the Ignatian exercises and leads retreats with a particular focus on helping women to flourish in their faith.

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Category: Advent