It all starts with silence

June 23, 2010 | 25 comments

I’m running around like crazy to get ready for our trip to Mt. Angel Abbey, but I wanted to pop in to mention something that’s been on my mind, that I’ll be pondering when I’m up at the monastery:

Last Sunday a wonderful priest named Fr. Michael Sullivan visited our parish, and he used the following quote in his homily:

The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.

– Mother Teresa

It was one of those moments where I was just about knocked over by the words — especially the first part: the fruit of silence is prayer.

I would have never thought of it that way, but it’s true that whenever I have silence, it is much more natural for me to turn to God; I do it almost without trying. And, as Mother Teresa points out, so many things flow from there. I kept thinking about that progression:

Silence –> Prayer –> Faith –> Love –> Service –> Peace

When I first heard the word silence, I had this knee-jerk reaction of “Yeah, right!” With four kids under six, silence is just not something that’s available to me.

…Or is it? Certainly it wouldn’t be good for me to try to get the same amounts of silence as, say, a cloistered nun. I’m called to the vocation of married life, and therefore “regular, extended periods of prayerful silence” is not on the list of ways God wants me to serve him right now. But have I maybe thrown the baby out with the bathwater there? So I can’t get three hours of silence per day; so there are many weeks when it would be almost impossible to even get one. What about fifteen minutes per day? Or every other day? Or even just thirty minutes, once a week?

I’ll be carrying Mother Teresa’s words with me as I roam the monastery grounds this week, considering whether I need make it a higher priority to find more opportunities to get away from the noise and the chaos so that I can focus in on listening for the “still, small voice” of God. Because, as Mother Teresa pointed out, through prayer and faith and love we can be transformed in Christ, and we can then transform the world. And it all starts with silence.


  1. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, this is so well timed. Just tonight I read an email from a friend, a mother of five, who is battling leukemia. We were discussing the fact that someone had suggested we start praying for Blessed Mother Teresa to intercede and bring about a miracle for her recovery (she needs one more to become officially canonized). This was part of her response, and it struck me: "For me it's too big to pin down…and someone from the other side really would have to designate that because there's too much noise here on earth." That last part caught me. There's too much noise here. Perhaps it's really that simple — that we need to move away from the noise to hear what God is whispering. And if we do, like you said, that will eventually lead to peace. Now, I'm imagining heaven as a place with lovely sounds, but none loud and obnoxious. I'm really attracted to that thought all of a sudden…of the din being done with. 🙂 So, your post just melded with that. Love when that happens. I missed why you are going but if your experience is anything like mine the past two summers at a monastery, you are in for a real treat. Enjoy! I'll be praying for you.

  2. Julie C

    Years ago, a priest told me that the greatest contemplative he had ever met was a mother of eight. That silence can be found within even amid noise and activity.
    He then taught me to say the Jesus prayer, which becomes in union with your breathing.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.
    That prayer learned from the heart can make a noisy life one of inner contemplation.

  3. eavice

    I was contemplating the acedia which often keeps me from prayers. (My children have almost all reached their teen years.) The collective noise of what society, culture, and our own minds places before us.

    I found that I was reflecting back upon my Anglican heritage and Susanna Wesley. She was the mother of 19 children (ten survived), When she wanted to spend time with God, she had a unique way of finding her “quiet” place. She would sit down in her kitchen and pull her apron up over her head. As ridiculous as that sounds, it worked for her. The children had a symbol not to disturb her. They didn't. Alas my mind doesn't need a symbol. It needs self discipline.

  4. Robin

    There's some writing on silence going on at my place, including the beginnings of an exchange between me (Presbyterian) and a friend (Catholic) who writes absolutely exquisite posts on contemplative life.

  5. Christina

    I am so thrilled to find this blog, and this post by extension. My husband and I just came into the Church this Easter (after a decade of life in the Anglican tradition), and we are always striving to figure out how to wed contemplation and life with four little boys. I look forward to hearing more about your trip. Blessings!

  6. Michelle

    Thank you so much for this. We have recently been battling my husband's migraine headaches and when he gets a really bad one, I get scared that it's something more. I needed this reminder of where true prayer, service, peace begin. Thank you.

  7. mrsdarwin

    I've been thinking about silence lately, and I find that (for myself) one of the ways I've found silence lately is by not turning on the radio in the van. It's a small thing, but I've found it surprisingly effective in allowing me to gather my thoughts. I can block out the noise from the backseats, but music (especially with lyrics) creeps into my head and kind of takes over.

  8. Jason

    This makes me think on one of my favorite themes: the distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world, and how we often create barriers between the two that aren't really there. Our spiritual connection to God through prayer and our physical lives are all part of the same whole, and He knows that well. We're called to pray without ceasing, but that doesn't require us to abandon all the other things we're called to do for the perfect peace of a prayer garden. It's a good thing to block out worldly distractions when we're talking to God, it's a great gift to know he hears us amid the chaos too. The comments about silence being more a matter of internal discipline than external circumstances are spot on. Love the story of the prayerful mom with the apron over her head.

  9. MahoneyMusings

    Love this post.

    I find that when my life gets too chaotic, I hear God telling me, "Find the quiet". While I dream of finding the quiet on a mountainside or at a secluded beach by myself, as a mom of 4, that's not going to happen anytime soon. So I find the quiet by turning off the radio in the van, going for a 15 minute walk all by myself and NOT bringing my music, or even just hiding in the bathroom for 5 minutes and sitting on the edge of the tub and contemplate the silence.

  10. Tina Fisher

    I am new to your blog and ablsolutely love it! I especially love this post!

    Thank you and I hope you have a wonderful trip.

  11. Sarah

    I find silence as a way, an in-road God uses, to get my thick-headed attention.

  12. Kate

    Thank you for passing along those words of Mother Teresa. What a simple progression of words that hold an overwhelming profound truth.

    PS: I left a prayer request with you on your last post and I'm not sure if you prayed for me or not but my prayer has been answered!!! (or atleast half of the prayer- I cannot be too sure about the other half). BUT PRAISE GOD! I cannot stop smiling, I have praying about this situaiton for months. If you did indeed pray, you must have a special connection up there. Bless your heart & enjoy your trip to the fullest!

  13. Abigail

    I love that quote also!

    As for me a Third Order Carmelite, increasing silence in my life is not hoping that all four of my kids are totally silent. It's courting silence within in my head, my heart and my soul.

    So I turn off the TV. I turn off the chatter in my mind. I pray to God in "stillness." Then if the Baby comes and asks me for cookies and milk in the middle of my prayer time, I smile. Helping a hungry or fussy baby isn't breaking my "silence" that's an act of "service" for God!

  14. Leah

    Your post reminded me of 1 Kings 19, in which Elijah was listening for the voice of God. The Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in a still small voice.

  15. By The Time I count to 3

    Thanks Jennifer.
    Ive been very blessed by all your posts – but this one is particularly convictiong/encouraging at the moment. I also have four under six and have been making excuses for not making time for silence…thanks for the kick in the butt:)

  16. Barb T.

    A beautiful quote – it is now printed, cut out, and taped to my daily planner.

  17. fieryhalo

    I met a friend of Mother Teresa's from India this week in California. She was a very old woman who continues to carry her friend's legacy of serving the poor and the orphans.

    I've been amazed at the difference between quality and quantity of service by the church. We can certainly be busy full-time serving people but when the poor and needy feel like they're simply being shuffled through our system, the impact on their spirit is much less powerful. There's no question we need more of both. We're called to meet physical AND spiritual needs.

    Silence and prayer has a lot to do with our ability for quality service. It's the difference between someone in business who's emotionally available to meet the needs of customers and the crazy-busy, out-of-touch employee who's just trying to get the job done. When we've had time to talk with the Lord and learn from him, I think we definitely know better how to serve the people he loves.

    I hope your highly anticipated trip to the monastery meets and/or exceeds all your expectations. I wish I were going too. More silence would be so nice. 🙂

  18. Shannon

    Jen, I love this, and I hope your retreat is just what you hope it will be.

    I can't help but think that God must surely have a special place in His heart for mothers of little ones (Isaiah 40:11 indicates that He does!). He places us in this season, fully aware that it doesn't bring us much *literal* silence, but I wonder if motherhood isn't one big workshop in learning the kind of silence that is much deeper than the literal variety–the silence of the *heart*, that goes on even when Dora blares in the background and the baby cries.

    Something to ponder (for me too, and I'm not even the mom of really little ones anymore–being the mom of pre-teens brings its own special brand of noise). Praying I can cultivate more of this silence in my heart.

  19. W

    Hi, Jen! This is Danielle, your long lost friend from Virginia! I have a cd series that I LOVE on the 12 different types of silence called, “On Holy Silence” by Fr. Basil Nortz, ORC. He talks about all places where we have NOISE that blocks our union with God. It is a great lecture… I highly recommend.

    Silence is a necessary condition for growth in the interior life. The spiritual doctors of the Church offer practical advice on how to observe 12 forms of silence in order to dispose ourselves for a deeper union in prayer with Jesus and to receive the subtle guidance of the holy angels.

  20. jen

    Quiet is definitely important, but I also think of silence in terms of a "quiet spirit."

    When I'm easily angered, worried, or busied I have a very distracted spirit and plow through the days by bootstrapping it on my own strength.

    I find even the most stressful and frustrating days go more smoothly when I have a quiet spirit that prays and trusts in Jesus for the strength and patience to get through it.

    Great post.

  21. Josephene

    Hello! I recommend to everyone Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life: A Practical Guide to Prayer for the Active Person, by Fr. Robert Spitzer (S.J.). His book offers five distinct but organic ways to possess a rich and on-going prayer life, including that inner silence of which Mother Teresa speaks.

    I really like the "Jesus Prayer." It's humbling.

  22. Cathy

    could you share this website with your readers. My 19 year old son has started it in honor of Mother Teresa's 100th birthday.

    thanks Cathy

  23. Elizabeth Mahlou

    I would not worry about the monkey (for monk) mistake, Jennifer. I made a much worse mistake in Russian. In fact, I used to tell my Russian students (when I was teaching) to go ahead and take a risk since they could make no worse mistake than I did. In planning a trip to Siberia, I said that I wanted a canoe for my husband (he is quite a paddler). However, I made a mistake in one letter and the gender of the word and asked for a brothel for him!

  24. Sibyl

    Love and grace cannot be separated from and must be joined to Truth and Life. Love that denies, defiles and departs from Truth is not Love at all…but brings forth fruit that is corrupt and toxic.

    Jesus is the Way of Love, Truth and Life. Truth will always guide and direct Love to work in conformity to GOD's Word, His Scriptural precepts and Godly wisdom and counsel. Love (Mother, woman) joined with Truth (Father, man) brings forth Life (Holy Spirit, fruit, children, church, converts).

  25. chantal

    I had someone come into my home who then commented that it is quiet, even though i have a day home. i realised that it is because I don't have a TV and my radio stopped working.


  1. 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 182) : Conversion Diary - [...] homilies that I went out of my way to get his name so I could know who this amazing…

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