I have never been comfortable with silence. My Spotify is always on standby to fill the void while I am driving, working, or otherwise left to myself and my thoughts.
During a reprieve from a noise-filled day, I started to realize how disordered my life was. I knew that I needed to make active changes, so when the opportunity presented itself to go on a pilgrimage to Israel, I emptied my bank account, quit my summer job, and packed my bags.
Spending almost three months in the Holy Land gave me the time and discipline I needed to reassess my life. There were times when I had powerful encounters with Christ, both in experiences and through people I met. There were also times when I encountered a profound sense of desolation and abandonment as I wrestled with the concept of forgiveness.
No specific moment or person brought about my change of heart. Rather, I encountered the most peace and clarity in the monotony of our daily work and prayer.
The vine and branches
I spent time in Emmaus with the Community of the Beatitudes, and every day we spent an hour cooking, cleaning, or working; and then an hour in prayer — a tradition affectionately referred to as Mary/Martha time. This time of prayer and work was most often characterized by silence. The word “silence” summons thoughts of awkwardness, or loneliness, but after three months of it, I soon realized I need silence as a staple in my life.
At one point during my “Martha” time, I was tasked with removing the grapes and leaves from a grapevine. It reminded me of an image Jesus used to speak of himself. “I am the vine; you are the branches,” he said. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
As I was harvesting the grapes, I noticed that the vine itself was dead — the source of nourishment for the grapes had become a brown, shriveled vine. The imagery struck me to the core — Christ, the vine, died to give me life, that I would bear great fruit. Thousands of miles from home, unsure of my true purpose, I realized in that moment that to accomplish anything of worth, I must cling to the Cross, to Christ’s death, to His suffering.
Prayer is a conversation
My grape-inspired breakthrough led me to the chapel. As I prayed, I couldn’t stop thinking about my namesake, Hannah, and how the Bible says she was so immersed in prayer, but her voice was not heard. I felt like Hannah — I was desperate for healing and answers to my prayers. A thousand circumstances reeled through my head like a picture-show. I then realized that I was the only person in the chapel. It was just me and our Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament, enveloped in silence.
It was bewildering, carrying on a conversation without speaking a word. I fumbled around, bringing to mind people I loved, those who had wounded me, my anxiety for the future, and my fear of being inadequate. I realized that this had been my only form of prayer — rambling on to God about what I need. I was so busy giving God my laundry list, I forgot that prayer is a two-way street.
When I had nothing left to say, the silence took over. I felt restless — as if there wouldn’t be an answer to my prayer. Then, it hit me. Jesus was asking me to give it all to Him: the people I loved, the fears I harbored.
I didn’t know what this meant, so I decided to follow His lead. I gave up the control I thought I had over my life. One by one, I presented the people I loved the most to our Lord. A burden was lifted from me in that little chapel. It was the first time I truly felt at peace.
Putting God first
God has created us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. Yet, this truth means nothing if we are not receptive to His truth and goodness. Choosing to foster a relationship with Christ has been, undoubtedly, my life’s greatest adventure. God has offered healing, forgiveness, and pure, unadulterated love; all I had to do was ask to be open to Him.
The great beauty is this: I did not need to travel halfway around the world to know the measure of the Father’s love for me. I simply needed to make the time for silence and to immerse myself in the sacraments, where grace is never-ending.
Now, whenever I need to reorder my life, I make the intentional decision to put Christ first and everything else falls into place. That doesn’t mean that my troubles go away — it just means that I’m not alone in them, which lightens the load. If silence is the language of God, it is a language that I intend to study daily. In this dialogue of silence, I find a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Since my time in the Holy Land, it is often a struggle to seek daily prayer in silence. Any effort at discipline, though, is met with more love, and I can’t help but be amazed at how my spiritual life has improved.
When I am not on the pro-level of aspiring Saint (which is most days, tbh), I approach prayer with simplicity: “God, I offer this day to you. Teach me to rely on you. Help me to live each moment as a prayer. Jesus, I trust in you.”