How can cultivating silence help you to pray better?

The saints often speak about the importance of silence for those who long to draw near to God. What do they mean by silence? Why is it important? How can we cultivate it in the 21st century?
Remember when God spoke to Elijah on Mt. Horeb? “And (God) said, ‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kg 19:11-13).
God desires to commune with us in a “still, small voice.” In order to “hear” him – to be open to receive him – we must be silent.
St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…. We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Our world is full of noise and activity. Silence is countercultural, but it need not be difficult. You can begin with little steps like keeping the radio off in the car. If you are naturally talkative, you might practice listening more intently to other people. You might ask yourself before you speak if your words are necessary and edifying. Others might keep the TV off during dinner or read a book instead of playing on their phone. If you remove some of the noise and non-stop activity from your life outside of prayer, you will find it easier to enter into silence during prayer. 
Silence gives God space in which to speak to us. Prayerful silence goes beyond lack of external noise. We need to be able to rest in God, rather than being restless. How often do our thoughts buzz like bees when we sit down to pray, swarming around us, taking our attention off of God? 
At prayer time, make a conscious decision to put aside distractions. The first step in prayer is often called “placing ourselves in the presence of God.” In our hearts we move away from the activities that normally occupy us. We consciously turn our attention to God instead.
I have sometimes found this verse helpful: “I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child in its mother’s arms” (Ps 131:2). I say it silently or whisper it to God. Then I feel my whirling thoughts settling into silence. Another idea is to picture Jesus on the cross or in the manger. One by one, lay all your cares at his feet. Leave them there for the duration of your prayer.
Silence might feel uncomfortable at first. That is actually a good sign. We aren’t meant to be empty. But we are meant to be filled with God, not temporal things. Empty your heart of the noise of the world so that you can hear the words God wants to speak to you in his still, small voice.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of The Contemplative Rosary just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.
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