The purpose of this article is to present a modern method of entering into the classroom of silence, which is ancient prayer of silent contemplation. We will do this by looking at why silence is important to our prayer life through Scriptural example, look at some barriers to entering into silence, and tips for getting to at least 5 minutes of silent prayer.
All writers on the spiritual life uniformly recommend, nay, command under penalty of total failure, the practice of silence. And yet, despite this there is perhaps no rule for spiritual advancement more inveighed against, by those who have not even mastered its rudiments, than that of silence.1
I first heard the term the classroom of silence from Catholic Apologist Matthew Kelly either from one of his early books or a recording of a lecture he gave. Whether he came up with the term or borrowed it from someone else, I do not know but I will give him the credit.
Classroom of silence is rich is descriptive language. In the silence of our soul with our minds quiet, we can encounter God and He will teach us an important lesson we need to know.
Scripture On Silence
One issue I often wondered about when people told me I need to embrace silent prayer was that if God has something to say, why doesn’t He appear in the sky so we could all see Him and hear Him? He did that once as the children of Israel were making their way home from Egypt. It did not take long before the people became so accustom to seeing Him that they began ignoring Him in the same way we stop noticing what once captured our attention.
We always value what we work for much more than what is given to us. If we work to hear the still small voice of God, we will value what He has to tell us.
Scripture tells the wonderful story in 1 Kings 19:11 that God is found in a still small voice of silence rather than in the spectacular that we would expect Him to be in. God speaks only in the spectacular when the occasion calls for it such as the burning bush2 or at the transfiguration3 but much more often, he speaks in whispers and with no words at all.
One place we have to be silent each day is in our sleep. Scripture has several examples how God use this classroom of silence to communicated with His people through dreams. Consider Joseph in months leading to the birth of Jesus and the years following4 or how God showed Peter it was acceptable to include the Gentiles in the Kingdom.5 In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are many examples of God speaking through dreams to Job, Jacob, Joel, Jonah, Joseph, and others whose names do not begin with a J.
While Jesus attended services at synagogues and annually at the temple, there are several occasions when He goes off “went away to a secluded place”6 to pray. In doing this, He shows us the importance of frequently attending Mass as well as spending time alone with God.
Thomas à Kempis wrote that “In silence and stillness, a spiritual soul advances and learns the hidden truths of Scripture.” To gain what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us individually, we must go to silence, but many saying silence is a luxury in the 21st century.
How Can We Listen And Learn While Talking
Watch any of the cable “news” interviews programs and you won’t see adults having conversations as journalist once did with their guests, rather you will see hosts with strong ideologies attempting to prove how correct they are by not allowing their guest to finish their sentences. Adults yelling at each other during an “interview” is not a conversation, it’s a debate at best and an argument at worse.
Not surprising, many of us have picked up on this style and we rarely discuss topics any more. Our “conversations” are more like debates with both parties doing an equal amount of talking, which is often more more than the amount of listening.
Since are are all too willing to out-talk another, the idea of entering a classroom of silence to listen to god is daunting, and yet we have the ability, it is a skill that requires discipline and practice.
Here are some suggested steps to develop the discipline of entering the classroom of silence.
1) Establish A Classroom
Where can you go to enter into your classroom of silence?
For some of us, it’s the bathroom or the car, while others have adoration chapels and open sanctuaries. It need not be fancy it only needs to be some place you can go where you will not be distributed for several minutes.
2) Establish Class Time
God designed us to work best with habits. To be successful with your classroom of silence, you need a specific time of day you do. Many choose early in the morning with fresh coffee while your home is still quiet. For others, that best time is midday in their car in their employers parking lot. For others, it is the few moments between when your responsibilities have ended for the day and before you go to sleep.
Claim your time and treat it as an important appointment.
3) Calming Your Conscious Mind
NOTE: If you are concerned this sounds too much like the eastern religion practice of meditation, click here for a quick explanation of Christian meditation.
One of the most difficult parts of gaining the greatest benefit from the classroom of silence is quieting your thoughts to allow you to hear God. To help us solve problems, God designed our minds to focus on the idea we are keeping in the front in an attempt to solve the issue. This can be as simple as how to pick up a cup of coffee without burning ourselves to more complex problems like navigating in highway traffic while talking with your friend.
To enter the classroom of silence, we can’t think of nothing because our mind will find an old problem to solve and pull that back up for it to work on. You have probably all experienced this before. Often, it is an issue of regret where you replay an event offering other possible outcomes.
We need to give our minds something to focus on which it cannot solve. Some people visualize a crucifix while another may focus on monstrance. These direct our thoughts to focus on the saving grace Jesus gave us, which is an unsolvable thought; we can only go deeper focusing on Jesus to a point where words have no meaning.
If you are new to getting your mind to focus to quiet down, perhaps images of a burning candle, blue skies or the mountains or open seas or similar image are a good place to start because we can stare at any of these for the rest of our lives and not be able to solve these images.
4) Start With Quality & Quantity Will Come
The next step is to set the goal to sit in silence for at least 1 minute. Silence your phone, tell your thoughts to be quiet, close your eyes, and sit in silence. If this is the first time focused on silence, this will be difficult but not impossible.
If you have never done this, it will be hard to start. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t even get to a minute without being able to control your thoughts going all over the place. You can do this but it will take discipline — that dirty word — and time. The rewards are amazing and worth the effort.
Our minds are incredible and are always looking for problems to solve, which is why they seem hard to quiet down; however, you are in control of your conscious mind! You will need to find a method that works well for you.
I have a vivid visual imagination so one method I use to quiet my thoughts is to visualize pushing those thoughts in a bottle to save for later. If they are bad thoughts, I visualize taking a sword to them and cutting them up. Perhaps you can hit them with a hammer. Do whatever you need to but work on silencing yourself. Keep working at it until you can get to a full 1 minute of silence.
Once you master a minute, go for 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and eventually 5 minutes of complete silence (without falling asleep).
5 minutes of silence for the 21st century American is an amazing accomplishment. With 5 minutes of silence, you should be able to clearly hear God speaking to you. However, 5 minutes is only .3% of a day. Can you spend longer with God? Matthew Kelly recommends 10 minutes in the classroom of silence each day. Many of the saints tell of spending upwards of an hour in the classroom of silence.
5) Journal Your Experiences As You Would Take Notes In Class
Of course, have your journal ready to record your experience in the classroom of silence. Write down everything you experienced. Over several sessions, your are going to notice a trend in what you are hearing.
How This Helps In Becoming A Light To The Nations
In becoming a light to the nations, we need to develop the daily habit of listening to what the Light of the Worlds wants of us. By developing the skills of entering the classroom of silence, we follow the example of Jesus and His many saints in allowing ourselves to decrease so that He can increase.
1) Obrecht, Edmond. “Silence.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 2 Apr. 2015 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13790a. ^