MY SEARCH FOR SILENCE:
UNIFYING PRAYER AND LIFE
The author is a Secular Carmelite in the St Thérèse
group, Boars Hill and member of a Quaker Fellowship in Oxford. In
this helpful article, she recalls the landmarks on her life's pilgrimage,
directing her into a place of silence, to God's dwelling within
us - a path for all of us which may even be 'a glimpse of eternity,
Silence in the life of prayer
Having reached a time when silence has become a necessary and important
part of my prayer life, I look back and wonder how it all came about.
Having grown up and been married within an 'Exclusive' branch of
the Plymouth Brethren, I and my husband left them after a time of
deep trauma, which meant that parents and previous friends would
have no more to do with us, due to our departure. Despite this,
or perhaps because of this, I had an experience of falling in love
with Jesus which lifted me up and renewed my life. 'He is altogether
lovely' (Sg 5:16).
We were welcomed into a nearby chapel of 'Open Brethren'. After
a time there, we became involved in a Billy Graham Television Crusade,
and a dear friend (who had adopted us when our parents rejected
us) would come to our house to pray with me about this crusade and
all the people involved. I hadn't prayed aloud in this way before,
and I view her as setting me on the path of prayer; I also remember
asking God to give me this privilege and teach me the way ahead.
She also showed me a booklet based on Galatians 2:19-20: 'I have
been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ
lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the
Son of God
' This began to open my eyes and thoughts to God
within, as well as around.
As my husband was invited to work full-time with Billy Graham in
London, we moved from Leicester to Surrey. Here I met another friend
who had a small Christian greetings cards business, 'Vision Cards',
and began to help her with the work. As we worked, she shared with
me about the Prayer of Quiet, of Contemplation. She asked: Did I
know anything about the prayer of silence, for example sitting quietly
in church and lifting my heart silently to God in worship? She told
me about her visits to Homes of Healing, to Rest Homes or Quiet
Weekends. I became interested and began to explore for myself. There
is a phrase in the Psalms, 'He brought me out into a spacious place'
(Ps 17:20/18:19), which began to describe for me the breadth of
First contact with the Quakers
Through a Bible Society group, an introduction was made to a Healing
Fellowship organised by a Quaker. The worship there was mainly in
silence, as was the prayer for healing. This silence was full of
the presence of Jesus - it was powerful. One night after such a
visit, I was at a prayer time in the local Free Church, a place
where a time of silence made people uneasy. But this particular
session held a long time of quiet, the stillness was deep and good,
and led to my sharing God's recent lessons and saying that there
was no need to be afraid of such silence, either in our own devotions
or in public worship.
I also discovered the Jesus Prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of
God, have mercy on me, a sinner', as a way into the silence of prayer.
I learnt to say this inwardly, so that my mind fastened on the words
rather than on the distractions which often lurk in prayer. (Although
some distractions may need to be noted, for future action.) I still
use this prayer often during the day, in silence or in intercession:
'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.'
Catholic links and indications of Carmel
Through a local ecumenical prayer group, I met a couple who would
become my sponsors at my reception into the Catholic Church. They
spoke of these other dimensions of prayer - of monks, nuns, saints,
lay people who knew the prayer of silence. My sponsor friend also
spoke to me about 'The Little Flower': she had had a very real experience
of the Carmelite St Thérèse of Lisieux, after the
death of a baby. She had also become attached to 'little' Edith
Stein, as she called her. Also, she spoke lovingly of the Virgin
Mary and helped to free me from the inhibitions of my upbringing.
Together we went to a retreat given by a priest near Guildford.
I still remember an illustration he gave: 'Think of yourself as
a sponge floating in the ocean of God's love. The sponge drifts
backwards and forwards, resting completely in this ocean which gives
it full support.' It was only some years later that I discovered
that the priest was a Discalced Carmelite friar!
During this time, I was joining in silent retreats and quiet days
in various places. One such retreat was with a little community
headed by a Methodist minister. There were two statues at the front
of their chapel. Asking her who they were, I was told they were
St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. That didn't mean much
to me then, but I would meet them again later on.
All these influences led to my receiving instruction to become
a member of the Catholic Church. This led to my asking to be received,
and the priest was happy to arrange this, despite my diverse pilgrimage.
Boars Hill and the Secular Carmelites
In 1991, due to my husband's illness, there was a move to Oxfordshire.
Before I left Surrey, my sponsors handed me an advert about a Priory
on Boars Hill. This resulted in early visits there, after I had
also met one of the Carmelite priests celebrating Mass at the local
church. I also explored the Quaker Healing Fellowship and found
a Wednesday Meeting for Worship in central Oxford.
Spending a weekend at the Boars Hill Priory resulted in an introduction
to two Scripture groups: one in the village and one at the Priory.
Following this, I spent a weekend at a local Quaker retreat centre;
the weekend was led by a Catholic priest from Blackfriars and a
Quaker retreat leader. This began to show me that my life was not
running on parallel paths but was all part of one whole. And I found
the same depth in silent prayer at both places.
I was also introduced to a group of Secular Carmelites who desired
to follow the aims of the Carmelite Order while living their lives
within the world. Within this group we received teaching on many
aspects of the life of prayer and of studies of Carmelite saints
through their own writings, and about living our Carmelite life.
My early days here were times when I received much practical and
loving support during the last days of my husband's life.
Helpful writings on silence
Various writings have helped me on this pilgrimage, which include
the aspect of silent prayer. To be involved in continual prayer
- that is, a continual relationship with God - was described by
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection as the 'Practice of the Presence
of God': knowing God as silence in the busyness of life. He was
a Carmelite lay brother who lived in Paris in the seventeenth century.
Pierre Lacout, a Swiss Carmelite who also became a Quaker and embraced
both paths, wrote in his small book, God is Silence:
Words split apart. Silence unites. Words stir up. Silence brings
In my active silence, I shall prepare myself to hear
the Silence of God. But when you pray, go into a room by yourself,
shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret
I have received further help from A Testament of Devotion by
a Quaker writer and teacher, Thomas R Kelly:
I find that a life of little whispered words of adoration, of
praise, of prayer, of worship can be breathed all through the
day. One can have a busy day outwardly speaking and yet be steadily
in the Holy Presence.
Then there is a small green booklet, entitled Carmelite Life,
produced by the Carmelite Monastery of Newry, County Down. I still
find this helpful, with a quotation from the section headed 'Carmelite
Prayer'. It is about a simple method of prayer which Our Lord taught
St Teresa. The method is this:
God, as we know, is everywhere but He dwells in the human mind
in a very special manner.
Close your eyes, then, and look at Him present there within you.
This look is already a prayer.
This simple gaze gives glory to God.
There are two memorable passages, in particular, from Elizabeth
of the Trinity that have also helped me:
It seems to me that I have found
my Heaven on earth,
since Heaven is God,
and God is [in] my Soul
A praise of glory is a soul of silence
that remains like a lyre
under the mysterious touch of the Holy Spirit
Each extract, in its own way, has added to prayer as a 'going within',
as a 'way of silence', as a way of being in love with God. If a
group worships in this silence, there is often an even deeper sense
of togetherness. This could even be a glimpse of eternity, of timelessness.
These are just a few thoughts which have helped me on this pilgrimage
towards silence in the life of prayer. It has been a consolidation
of life in Carmel in its various aspects, and incorporating times
of quiet for prayer. A final quotation sums it up in better words
To achieve silence: this is of all things the hardest and the
most decisive in the life of prayer. Silence is not merely negative
- a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech - but,
properly understood, it is highly positive: an attitude of attentive
alertness, of vigilance, and above all of listening