Silence as prayer-in all its relational and contextual complexity-can help us approach God and find spiritual clarity to speak in the face of unspeakable  injustice.

October 13, 2019

Silence as prayer-in all its relational and contextual complexity-can help us approach God and find spiritual clarity to speak in the face of unspeakable  injustice.

Open discussions are crucial for teaching ethics. Yet the silence be­ tween asking a question and a student responding feels as if it is sus­pended in time. Despite the palpable anxiety, anticipation,  and tension, I learned that only by resting in this silence can a thoughtful discussion emerge. Embracing silence allows questions to fill the room and new, unexpected insights to be shared. It also helps us recognize that some­ times words just fail. Accepting a place for silence in developing moral discourse has taught me to embrace a new kind of silence in prayer.

Growing up, I had a complicated relationship with silence. On the one hand I was taught that silence in prayer was a mark of humility and listening for God. "We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature­ trees, flowers, grass-grows in silence," urged St. Teresa of Calcutta. This vision helped me develop attentiveness to the presence of God in all of creation. Nevertheless, I struggled to find the silence.

On the other hand, my grandparents and parents  taught  me  that  si­lence in the  face of  injustice  is complicity. In middle  school my  failure to be silent in the face of racism led to intense bullying. Silence would have been easier, but it also would have been  tacit  acceptance  of  racial slurs against other students. For a long time, even  silence  in prayer  felt like an abdication of the injunction to "speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Prov. 31:9).

In class shared silence sometimes allows students to open up about their own experiences and personal spirituality in ways that are a wit­ ness, not mere discussion. When students share their experiences of rac­ ism and discrimination, it isn't a discussion  point or anecdote. Out of silence we are all invited to be present, and oftentimes this active silence is recognition that words fail to address the shared experience. I hope this dynamic of silence and presence helps move students to find their voice and speak up on behalf  of themselves and others.

As I still myself to pray, I am brought back to my experience at Gol­gotha in Jerusalem. I had no thoughts or words. I approach the cross in silence, embracing all the anxiety and tension of that moment. the spiri­tual silence of the cross helps me focus on the crucified peoples of today. This silence in prayer, I hope, will lead to voice and action on behalf of justice  and solidarity.

Meghan f. Clark

Abridged due to space limitations. For the complete article go to www.uscatholic.org.