Jesus said, "And when you pray ... go into your closet and there pray to your Father in secret" (Matthew 5).
To a literalist of scripture, you would have to designate an actual closet in your home in order to satisfy a literal reading of these words. But wouldn't that be to miss the point of Jesus' words entirely? I suspect so.
Then, what is Jesus really suggesting? And what is the significance of silence?
The point Jesus was making was quite symbolic indeed, as were many of the things he said. Prayer...or, we might even say, "real" prayer is not the exchange of words at all. Words are useful and there are times when it is appropriate to use them. But more often than not, words can be a hindrance to prayer -- to intimacy. Prayer, on the other hand, is the immersion of oneself in an Ocean of Silence, which is, of course, the very Presence herself. That is to say, the more you immerse yourself in this Ocean, the less beneficial you'll find words to be.
Have you ever tried to speak underwater? If you have ever gone snorkeling or diving, you know that one of the most memorable things about it is the profound sense of silence that surrounds you.
Why would you need words? As they say, "speech is silver but silence is golden." For what purpose would words serve?
When people pray, for example, "Dear God, we invite your Presence to be in our midst today," a prayer you often hear at sacred gatherings, isn't this just an acknowledgment that they feel separate from the Divine and, as a consequence, little or no intimacy with her?
Why would you ask God to be where God is already?
I used to think of prayer, and so practiced it myself, the way many religious people still do today. I thought of prayer as a way to rub the proverbial Aladdin's Lamp. I used words the way Aladdin used his hands to stroke the lamp -- in my case, to stroke and stir the presence of God. Aladdin sought to release the Genie. I sought to release God. Aladdin wanted his wishes fulfilled. I wanted my prayers answered and my misperception of God's absence overcome.
Isn't this just about all prayer is for many people today? A means of getting their wishes fulfilled? God is reduced to a kind of cosmic vending machine in which you drop coins conveniently call prayers in hopes of getting your favorite, and preferred, goodie, whatever it might be.
So, I ask again, "What is real prayer?"
Once, Mother Teresa was asked, "When you pray, what do you say to God?"
"I say nothing," she responded. "I do not talk. I listen instead."
Then came the follow-up question.
"So, as you listen, what does God say to you?"
Mother Teresa responded, "Nothing at all. He listens, too."
Ponder this! Better yet, practice silence. Use words, if needed, but move beyond words by immersing yourself in the Ocean of Silence -- Mystery itself.
When you know this kind of oneness with Mystery -- or, this kind of oneness with yourself -- what would be the point of words? As Ram Dass says, "The more silent you become, the more you hear."
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I am a professional speaker and an adjunct professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky. I speak to widely diverse audiences on the art of leadership, the laws of success in business and life, the nurture and care of your sacred self, and just how the life you lead today determines the legacy you leave tomorrow.
Additionally, I coach CEO's, professionals, community leaders and, of course, religious leaders within virtually every communion in America. Contact me directly firstname.lastname@example.org or through your preferred speaker's bureau.