By Joe Moore and Jay Sivits

The Grand Silence

Campus by the Sea Rock Jetty

The Grand Silence is a practice we in InterVarsity have learned from the Benedictine communities.  The term refers to the space of time that begins with the last prayer service of the day called Compline and ends with the first prayer service the following morning.  In chapter 42 of the Rule of St. Benedict it says, “Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times, but especially at night.” and “When all have assembled, they should pray Compline; and on leaving Compline, no one will be permitted to speak further.  If anyone is found to transgress this rule of silence, he must be subjected to severe punishment, except on occasions when guests require attention or the abbot wishes to give someone a command, but even this is to be done with the utmost seriousness and proper restraint.”  Benedict speaks of the benefit of silence in chapter 6 where he cites several Scriptures on the vulnerability to sin that speaking produces. (Ps. 38:2-3, Prov. 10:19 and 18:21)

I think of silence as a form of fasting—from speech, noise, distraction and all that go with them. Often in Scripture silence is the result of being confronted with our sin. Keeping silence before God is an expression of humility and submission.  Ultimately we come before God, who is all knowing, all powerful, and present everywhere. As Habakkuk said, “The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

The Trinity delights in our words of praise.  But because God is infinite, our understanding of Him will never fully capture the boundless truth about Him. Therefore, when meditating on the greatness of God, keeping silence before him is an appropriate act of worship.  It is an expression of holy awe.  

Observing silence at night is a good time to recall and reflect on our day or on our lives.  Monks were encouraged, in the quiet of night, to contemplate their deaths.  By doing so, they identified ways their lives needed to change before that final day. They could also reflect upon the joy they will experience when they will one day be in the presence of God.  This is where practicing the Examen can be helpful.

The Grand Silence is about being with Jesus.  It is another way to practice Sabbath, to stop, to cease all our work, worry, or the whirlwind of activity and depend totally upon the Lord. It is a time for us to let go of all distractions. But letting go and moving to a point of internal stillness and silence takes time. We lead busy, full lives sometimes way beyond the margins of health and sanity. So be patient as you embrace the silence and receive it as a friend.

Etiquette for Silence in Community

Turn off your cell phone, your computer, and put down your novel for the evening.  Rest in Jesus.  If the computer or phone is a problem, give it to the group leader for the night.

If you have difficulty settling, go for a walk with Jesus, draw, read Scripture, or if very tired, go to bed early. 

If rooming with another, have a brief conversation about the morning routine so you won’t be wondering who will do what when.

Honor the silence when entering common spaces.

Stewardship of the eyes – many consider it best to keep your eyes down so as to avoid requiring a recognition or response from others.  During meals you can focus your eyes on the edge of your plate.

As always, any discipline is subject to the command to love.  If it is loving for you to break silence for another’s benefit, feel free to do so.

During breakfast, think of Jesus as your meal mate, eating across from you.  What would you like to talk with him about given this opportunity?

If you need to exercise in the morning, think of Jesus exercising with you.  There is no need to talk.  Just enjoy the time with God.

Grand Silence Scriptures

Follow this link to find Scripture passages that may help you practice the grand silence experience.