This excerpt from I Want to see God is a must for anyone interested in Carmelite spirituality –
The gift of self attracts in return the mercy of God; humility increases the soul’s capacity for grace; silence protects the efficacy of God’s action in the soul.
In the First Mansion, Saint Teresa stressed the necessity of recollection if we would discover the presence of God in the soul and the treasures He has hidden there. Now, in this second phase of the soul’s progress, the need for silence becomes imperative. Previously, it was sufficient to be recollected from time to time; a recollection that is as frequent and constant as the action of God, is now an absolute requirement.
We must then speak of silence. The importance and difficulties of the subject could lead us into a long discussion. One must bear in mind, however, that it would be rather illogical to discourse too much about silence. And yet, in order to give the essentials, two major sub-headings are required: Necessity of Silence, and Forms of Silence.
II. NECESSITY OF SILENCE
Any task at all that requires a serious application of our faculties, presupposes the recollection and silence that render it possible. The scientist needs silence to prepare his experiments. The philosopher recollects himself in solitude to put order into his thoughts and penetrate into them. The silence that the thinker is avid for, that his intellectual energies may not be disturbed in their reflections, is still more necessary for the spiritual person, that the whole soul may be applied to the search of its divine object. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us how we must seek solitude for prayer: “When you pray, go into your room, and closing the door, pray to your Father in secret – and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”(1)
The contemplative prayer proper to the state to which we have come has very particular requirements of silence and solitude. In contemplation, divine wisdom not only enlightens the intellect; it acts on the whole soul. And so it demands of it a complete orientation of its being towards God, a recollection and tranquillity of what is deepest within, in order to receive the action of Love’s transforming rays.
In a forceful expression which cannot but awaken profound echoes in every contemplative soul, St. John of the Cross enunciates this divine requirement. He writes: “The heavenly Father has uttered only one word; it is His Son. He says it eternally and in an eternal silence. It is in the silence of the soul that it makes itself heard.”(2)
“God sees in secret,” our Lord had said. St. John of the Cross adds: “God works His divine operations in silence.” Silence is a law of the highest divine operations; the eternal generation of the Word, and the production in time of grace, which is a participation of the Word.
The divine law surprises us. It goes so much against our experience of the natural laws of the world. Here below, any profound transformation, any great external change produces a certain agitation and noise. The great river, for example, reaches the ocean only by the sounding onward rush of waters.
In the Holy Trinity, the generation of the Word (splendor of the Father who expresses Himself in that luminous and clear radiance of Himself, which is the Son) and the procession of the Holy Spirit (the mutual exchange of the Father and the Son in infinite torrents of Love, that constitute the Third Person) take place in the bosom of the Trinity in the silence and peace of the divine immutability in an eternal present. No movement, no change, no slightest stir, signaling to the world or to the finest sensibilities of creatures, this rhythm of the Triune Life whose power and effects are infinite.
We must await the vision face to face in order perfectly to enter into the place of the divine immutability. Nevertheless, already here below, participation in the divine life through grace brings us under the law of divine silence. “It is in silence,” adds St. John of the Cross, “that the divine Word, which in us is grace, makes Himself heard and is received.”
Baptism works a marvelous creation in the soul of the child. A new life is given it, a life which will permit it to perform divine acts as a son of God. We hear the words of the priest, “I baptize thee…”; we see the water flow over the forehead of the infant; but, of the creation of grace, which requires nothing less than the personal and omnipotent action of God, we have perceived nothing. God has spoken His word in the soul in silence. And it is in the same silent darkness that the further developments of grace ordinarily take place.
God speaks in silence, and silence alone seems able to express Him. For the spiritual person who has known the touch of God, silence and God seem to be identified. And so, to find God again, where would he go, if not to the most silent depths of his soul, into those regions that are so hidden that nothing can any longer disturb them.
Thirsty for God because she also had already found Him, Saint Teresa was to the same degree thirsty for silence. The foundation of the Convent of St. Joseph of Avila, the first of her Reform, sprang from that need (for silence). At the Incarnation Convent, the absence of enclosure, the large number of religious, the mitigation of the Rule, had killed the silence that Teresa and Christ needed in order to cultivate their intimacy and to be perfectly united. In order to revive the primitive ideal, St. Teresa set out to re-create the desert. She would establish it in the bosom of cities. Such was the principle aim that directed the organization of St. Joseph’s of Avila, the triumph of the practical genius of the Saint and the model for other foundations.
In our 20th century, the contemplative dreams with a little melancholy of Teresa’s age as we live in a fever of movement and activity. The evil is not simply in organization of modern life, in the haste that it imposes on what we do, the rapidity and facility that it affords our changing of pace. A more profound evil is in the feverish nervousness of temperaments. People no longer know how to wait and be silent. And yet, they appear to be seeking silence and solitude. Whatever changes time may bring, God remains the same and it is always in silence that He utters His Word and that the soul must receive it. The law of silence is imposed on us, as on St. Teresa. The high-strung excitability of the modern temperament makes it more urgently important, and exacts of us a more resolute effort to respect and submit to it.
III. FORMS OF SILENCE
Silence of the tongue
Of the tongue it has been said that there is nothing better and nothing worse. A source of incomparable good, it provokes the greatest evils. The apostle, Saint James, says this emphatically in his Epistle.(3)
Talkativeness, that tendency to exteriorize all the treasures of the soul by expressing them, is extremely harmful to the spiritual life. Its movement is in reverse direction from that of the soul, which becomes increasingly interior in order to be nearer to God. Drawn towards the external by his need to say everything, the talker cannot but be far from God and all profound activity. All his inner life passes through his lips, and flows out in words that bear along with them the fruits of his thought and soul. He thus becomes more and more spiritually impoverished. For the talkative person no longer has time, and soon no taste, to be recollected, to think, nor to live deeply. And by the agitation that he creates around him, he hinders fruitful work and recollection in others. Superficial and vain, the talker is a dangerous person.
Interior silence It is in the deep center of the soul, in its most spiritual depth, that God dwells and carries on the mysterious operations of His union with us. What matter, then, the external noise and activity, provided silence reigns in this spiritual domain of our divine Guest. Interior silence is the most important – Exterior silence has value only in the measure that it favors the inner.