John of the Cross might not be able to silence your inner voice, but he can help you turn it down a notch.
Like a man climbing an imposing mountain in search of the great secret of life, I spend much of my time pursuing silence. Alas, many days that is an elusive commodity. When I do capture some precious solitude, I always have Jesus to thank.
But St. John of the Cross deserves much credit as well. The Spanish Carmelite friar of the 16th century actually enabled me to give a name to my desire: stillness of soul.
Finding quiet can be such a challenge in our world. The big-screen TV with hundreds of channels, regular radio and satellite radio, iPods and iPads, laptops and desktops, CDs and the return of vinyl — so many gadgets to entertain, inform and amaze. Even if you shut all those down, you still need to have the willpower to turn off the phone, with its constant access to social media, calls and texts.
Let’s say you successfully muffle all those man-made noisemakers. And that you’re able to silence the sound of family members seeking your attention, the sounds of the street and whatever else outside that can interrupt you inside. You still have one major force of noise to hush.
Your own voice.
I know that my voice always seems to be prattling on inside my head. I sit on the little couch behind the closed door of my bedroom for Morning Prayer. I relax in the pew at church before Mass. I bask in the peace during my five-day silent retreat every year in Gethsemani, Kentucky. It might be quiet enough to hear a bird singing 100 yards away, but the silence still is constantly broken by my internal voice telling me anything and everything.
I have found a way to at least turn that into a whisper that I can mostly avoid, though, thanks to John of the Cross. The author of The Dark Night of the Soul, among many other profoundly beautiful works, has been somewhat of a spiritual director for me for years. He was a master advocate of silence, as noted in these quotes:
- “It is best to learn to silence the faculties and to cause them to be still so that God may speak.”
- “The soul that is quick to turn to speaking and conversing is slow to turn to God.”
- “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”
More beneficial than any of his advice has been what has been called John of the Cross’ “Prayer of Peace.” I use it especially in the moments before I begin my quiet time for meditation and contemplation.
O Blessed Jesus, grant me stillness of soul in Thee. Let Thy mighty calmness reign in me. Rule me, O thou King of gentleness, King of peace. Give me control, control over my words, thoughts and actions. From all irritability, want of meekness, want of gentleness, O dear Lord, deliver me. By thine own deep patience give me patience, stillness of soul in Thee. Make me in this, and in all, more and more like Thee. Amen.