The Twelve Degrees of Silence

Source: District of Asia

There is no other word that singularly summarises the distinct quality of interior life than silence. To embrace silence is to prepare for holiness. Silence is the company on the path. God, who is eternal, speaks only one Word. It would be desirable to speak in correspondence with God. All our words, directly or indirectly, should express Jesus. How beautiful is the language of silence!

1st Silence in words

The first indispensable step towards divine union requires a practice of speaking less to the created and much to the Creator. It is within this school of solitude and silence that the rudimentary principles are revealed. In the spirit of the gospel and the Rule [the Carmelite Rule of Life] which the soul has embraced, the soul learns and deepens in virtue and respect. Respect is given to the consecrated holy places, extended towards others, and most of all to the Word that rests in the bosom of the Father, the Word made flesh.

Not listening to the world and its news allows space to be silent with God, to listen only to God's voice and the voices of the holiest of souls. It is to be as silent as Mary, who was able to hear the voice of the angel.

2nd Silence in action

Silence in the workplace and slowness in our movements. Silence in walking, softness in looking, gentleness in speaking, blocking out all noise. Being silent to every- thing exterior is a preparation for the soul to pass into God.

From these first efforts, the soul deserves to hear the voice of the Lord. How well these first steps are rewarded! God calls the soul to the desert, which is why the soul avoids every distraction in this second stage. She steps away from noise, runs away alone to the One who is alone.

There she will taste the first taste of divine union and savour the jealousy of her God. This is the silence of contemplation.

3rd Silence with one’s imagination.

The first faculty of imagination - imagining things, imagining God - comes knocking at the closed door of the garden (Song of Songs 5:1-2), bringing with it emotions, vague impressions, fears and sadness. In solitude, the soul stays in silence.

But it is in this secluded place that the soul proves her love of the Beloved. The soul will then present to the All-Powerful the beauties of the sky, the delights of her Lord, the scenes of Calvary, the perfections of her God.

From remaining in this silence, she becomes the silent servant of divine love.

4th Silence with one’s memories.

The need to forget the past.  In order to do so, we need to saturate our minds with memories of all the good things God has done for us and the mercy God has extended.

Through silence, we recognise the abundance of God and live in a state of gratitude.

5th Silence with others.

How miserable is this habitual condition! Often, while meditating, the soul catches herself interiorly -conversing with others, talking and answering them. To persist in this manner causes humiliation and provokes the saints to mourn!

Under such circumstances, the soul must gently retire to the most intimate depths of herself, where rests the inaccessible majesty of the Holy of Holies; where Jesus, her consoler and her God, will reveal himself to her and disclose his secrets. He will give her a foretaste of bliss.

Then Jesus will give her a bitter distaste for all that is not him, and all that is of the earth and the world will cease, little by little, to distract her.

6th Silence with one’s heart.

With the tongue mute, the senses calm, one's imagination, memories and other things all brought to silence, comes solitude. Solitude breeds a purity of soul similar to that of a spiritual bride. The heart makes little noise. We have to be silent to our affections, our antipathies, our desires, especially when they are overly ardent. We have to be silent to zeal when it becomes indiscreet, silent to fervour when it is exaggerated. Even a whisper needs to be silent.

We have to be silent to the excitement of love, but we mustn't be silent to holy exultations of which God is the author. We don't say 'no' to the love of God, but we say 'no' to the more basic human expressions of desire. The silence of love is love in silence. Silence in the presence of God, who is beauty, kindness and perfection.

Silence with one's heart is beyond words. It is a silence that is not forced or awkward; it naturally is. It is a silence that will not harm tenderness. Vigour of love for God, as an admission of all that is false, will not harm the silence of the humble. As angels' wings flutter, of which spoke the prophet, 25 the sound of their wings does not harm the silence of their obedience, as the fiat of the Virgin Mary ('Let it be to me...') does not harm the silence of Gethsemane, nor does the eternal Sanctus harm the silence of the seraphim.

A silent heart is a pure heart; a melody singing in the heart of God. Like a sacristy lamp flickering noiselessly at the tabernacle, and like incense silently rising at the Saviour's throne, such is love's silence. In the preceding degrees (Nos. 1-5), silence was a cry of the earth. In this degree (No. 6), the soul, in her purity, learns the first note of the sacred song, the song of the heavens.

7th Silence to self-interest.

A love of self is easily tempted to corrupt. Silence resists such lures. Silence prevents the soul from low-level Linclinations.

Through gentleness and humility bred in silence, one is able to detach from all negative things, including contemptuous accusations or malicious gossip. However, one also needs to be not only deaf to the negative but also to the positive, to acknowledgements, compliments and approval.

The soul stays in constant gentleness and humility, steadily silent in pleasure and joy. Just as a flower unfolds in silence and its scent worships its Creator in silence, the interior soul must do likewise. She needs to be silent in the face of contradictions, in fasting, during sleeplessness at night, in fatigue and in hot and cold temperatures. Silence in health and in illness, in deprivations of all kinds. Silence speaks most eloquently from true poverty and penance. This silence is made comfortable when it is dead towards all that the world offers.

Detachment breaks the bond of material enslavement. It is the silence of the human self passing into the will of God. Unsteady human nature cannot interrupt this silence. because it is a silence that stretches beyond ourselves and our natural tendencies.

8th Silence of the mind.

The way silence influences the workings of the mind is to disable useless thoughts, agreeable thoughts and natural thoughts. Even though a thought itself cannot help its thinking, these three thoughts are the ones that harm the silence of the mind.

Our minds desire truth, yet we feed our minds lies. The essential truth is God. God's intelligence is limitless and ours is limited. Because of our limitations, we are not able to contemplate God consistently and access God's wisdom in the moment - without the generous gift of God's grace. This grace, although impossible to be summoned, can be accessed only through prayer. If you silence your thoughts by means of faith, the result will be partially illuminative.

Try to prevent yourself from working thoughts out intellectually, because by doing so, you weaken your aim and dry up the love in you. Silence your intentions in purity and simplicity. In solitude, silence obsessive thinking. In meditation, silence curiosity. In devotion, silence personal desires and plans, as they hinder the work of God in you.

Silence pride, which is always looking out for itself in everything, everywhere, searching for sublimity, beauty and goodness. Be silent, instead, in the naked, radical honesty of a saint's simplicity. A mind that fights against all such enemies is similar to angels who look ceaselessly upon the face of God. It is only through this kind of intelligence that one is raised nearer to God.

9th Silence to judgment.

Abstain from judging people and things. Do not judge or pass an opinion. By saying nothing, you must not surrender to that which is morally wrong. When you speak, do so simply from the heart, with prudence and kindness. It is as the silence of blessed childhood, the silence of perfection. It is as the silence of angels and archangels as they follow the commandments of God. It is as the silence of the Word made flesh.

10th Silence to the will.

Adherence to the commandments and the sacred Rule [the Rule of the convent] requires a type of silence that is exterior to one's own will. Here the Lord introduces a much more profound and difficult teaching. It is the silence of a slave receiving blows from its master. Blessed is this slave because its master is God.

This is the silence surrounding the victim on the altar, the silence of the lamb that has been sheared. It is the silence of darkness that prohibits our calling out for light, the divine light that brings happiness.

It is the silence of an anxious heart, a suffering soul, who thought herself loved by her God. Pushed away, she doesn't ask why or how long she will suffer. It is the silence of abandonment where she experiences God's unyielding severity. It is the silence of heaviness under the weight of the divine hand.

It is the silence that makes no sound except the sound of suffering love. It is the silence of the cross. It is more than a martyr's silence: it is the silence of Jesus' agony. This silence is his divine silence: there is nothing like his voice; it is impossible to resist his prayer. Nothing is more worthy of God than this kind of suffering praise. Just as Mary's 'Yes' included the embrace of pain, this silence allies us with the birth pangs of death. While the human will suffers through the emptiness of abandonment, which is the true sacrifice of love, it is violently tossed like great waves upon rocks for the glory of God's name. God is transforming the human will into his divine will. What now is incomplete? What more is needed to accomplish divine union? What will it take to achieve the splendour of Christ in the soul?

The answer is twofold: (1) the body's last breath, and (2) the sweet attentiveness to the Beloved, whose divine kiss is the reward beyond description.

11th Silence towards oneself.

Prevent talking to yourself and carrying on interior conversations. Do not listen to yourself. Do not complain. Do not feel sorry for yourself. In brief: silence yourself. Forget yourself. Separate yourself from yourself.

This is the most difficult of silences. Yet silence towards oneself is essential. There is no other way to unite to God as perfectly as is possible. Although, with the aid of grace, a poor little creature can often reach this level, it is especially hard to maintain. The silence of being nothing is more heroic than the silence of death.

12th Silence with God.

In the beginning, God said to the soul, 'Don't speak too I much to others, but speak a lot to me.' Now God says to the soul, 'Don't talk to me any more.' Silence with God is to be united with God to present oneself, exposed, in front of God, to offer oneself to God, to become nothing in front of God; adore God, love God, listen to God, hear God and find rest in God. It is the silence of eternity that unites the soul with God.