When I discovered deep collective silences in Quaker meetings, I knew I’d come upon something as profound and vast as the ocean. I wanted to go deeper into silence than the prescribed hour of silent worship allowed. So I practiced silent worship every morning for progressively longer periods. In the process I made numerous discoveries, which eventually led to my love affair with silence. Thomas Keating refers to silent prayer sessions as “heavy dates” with God. A “heavy date” with a spouse usually involves physical intimacy. A “heavy date” with God involves intimacy with God’s most essential and primal being: stillness and silence.
Silent prayer is a principal practice of Quakers, Centering Prayer Practitioners, Prayer of the Heart practitioners, and monastic Christians from East to West. Western Christian tradition refers to silent prayer as the prayer of faith, the prayer of simplicity, the prayer of simple regard, and silent worship. It is also referred to as blessed stillness, watchfulness, and noetic stillness in the writings of the Eastern Church. Resting in God’s pregnant silences is the mystics’ common ground.
“Resting in God” is a phrase Gregory the Great (d. 604) used to summarize the essence of silent prayer. This was the classical meaning of contemplative prayer for Christianity’s first sixteen centuries.
Thomas Keating writes:
Contemplative Prayer is the opening of mind and heart—our whole being—to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. We open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing—closer than consciousness itself. Contemplative Prayer is a process of interior purification leading, if we consent, to divine union. (Keating, “Method of Centering Prayer”)