Finding a Half Hour of Silence (Or Maybe a Minute?)
“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (Revelation 8:1)
I don’t remember reading this verse before. The Lamb in John’s fantastic revelation opens the seventh and final seal on the back of the scroll mentioned in Revelation 5. After each of the first six seals is opened, John sees a particular scene revealed. After the seventh seal is opened by the Lamb, “... there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”
In the non-sleeping hours of this world of ours, it can be difficult to encounter silence. In some of our bigger cities, in fact, it can be difficult to enter into silence at all - even at night. There are so many voices... there is so much noise. Not to mention all the noise going on inside of our brains! Have you ever tried to enter into a time of silent prayer, only to discover that your brain has dozens or even hundreds of thoughts going on? Yeah, me too. I think this is why some people give up on prayer. The cacophony inside our minds can be too overwhelming. Either that, or we’re afraid of actually hearing what God might ask us to do.
But here’s the thing: God often speaks in the midst of the silence. God doesn’t tend to be one of the screamers or shouters. God waits for us to do things like going beyond the wilderness to look at a particular bush (see Exodus 3). God waits for us to take the time to climb a mountain or sit by a lake, a stream, or an ocean. God waits for us sit down long enough in our favorite chair until all the voices in our head take a break for a while. And then... we hear a word from God.
Here’s the second thing: It’s very often in the silence that we detect the presence of God. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) And lest we think that all the noisy distractions are only a phenomenon of our own day, we notice that Jesus got up very early in the morning - often while it was still dark - to pray. Even Jesus needed that solitude and silence to connect with his heavenly Father. If we don’t experience the presence of God during the day, perhaps it is because we are not pausing to observe any silence.
Here’s the third thing: There is a certain kind of deep, renewing rest that only happens when we stop - completely stop - and are silent. Observing this kind of silence allows for the possibility of us nodding off for a bit. And when we come back to a semi-conscious state, we might discover that peace that only God can give, where all is suddenly right with the world - because we know we are in the presence of a safe, loving, attentive, accepting God.
I have been at this prayer thing for a while now, and I am still learning how to be silent. Sometimes when I do 15 minutes of centering prayer, I discover that 15 minutes isn’t long enough, because it takes 15 minutes just to quiet my mind! Better that I do 20 minutes or 22 minutes or 30 minutes, and plan on the first 15 minutes being a time of noticing. “Oh, wow! Now I am thinking about who I need to call. Oh, now I am wondering how Hannah is doing in her Parent/Teacher conferences. Now I am thinking about what I will pick up at Costco. Now I am thinking about whether the Cubs can rally and make it to the World Series. Now I am noticing the hum of the refrigerator. Now I am thinking about _________.” This is why ALL those who teach about prayer - if they are honest - mention our thoughts and our “monkey brain”... because it happens to everyone.
But if we keep practicing - prayer is a spiritual PRACTICE, remember - we can learn to be silent for a whole minute... and then 5 minutes... and then 15 minutes... and maybe, after a while, we can join with all of heaven and be silent for half an hour. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine what it would be like to be with the Lamb of God and the angels and archangels and all the faithful - the entire company of heaven - and be silent for half an hour? It gives me chills to think about it. (And I think that is exactly what happens when we learn how to enter into silent prayer for half an hour.)
For today, maybe I can start by not interrupting the person who is talking to me, and then pausing before I respond. Maybe, by God’s grace, I won’t feel compelled to fill the silence when a group of us are meeting together, and suddenly no one is talking. Maybe I can allow for a little more silence during our corporate worship, before I go on to the next part of the service. Maybe I can drive around town without the radio on. Maybe I can sit with my spouse for 5 minutes, and we can hold hands and close our eyes, and nobody will say anything, and we will just be - together.
And maybe, during such a time of silence, God will speak. And I will hear something that God is saying to me. And maybe, after I hear... there will me some more silence, before I say, “Thank you.” And maybe I will hear God say... after a little more silence... “You’re welcome.”
All of that sounds like a miracle to me.