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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer

Sitting in Silence 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Sit down alone and in silence. 
—St. Symeon the New Theologian 

In Turning to the Mystics, CAC teacher James Finley focuses on the instructions of St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022) for praying the Jesus Prayer:  

First, St. Symeon says, “Sit down.” The prayer is in our bodily presence sitting in the presence of God. Sensing that we cannot settle into the prayer if we keep fidgeting, we discover that in learning to sit still, we can learn to be still. In this way, we are graced with an experiential understanding of God revealing to us in the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). When you’re sitting this way, it’s like the still point of the turning world is this deep axis of your own body.  

Next, St. Symeon urges us “to sit down alone.” We’re alone in a mystical sense: God alone is God, and … you alone are you…. It isn’t that each of us has a relationship with God, it’s that each of us is an utterly unique relationship with God. We’re trying to awaken and surrender to that aloneness in which we are all—living and dead—alone together as siblings in this love in whom we’re one and subsist as one. We start to see all people with love, because everybody is walking around created by God in the image of God.  

St. Symeon also says, “Sit down alone, and in silence.”  

In silence we are learning how to listen. If we’re not silent, we can’t listen, and it’s in listening that we can learn to hear. This ties into a mystical understanding of creation. In God’s “Let it be,” God is speaking all things into being: “Let there be light, let there be stones, and trees, and stars.” It isn’t as if God speaks everything into being and then goes off to leave the universe to run on its own. Rather, creation is absolute and perpetual. Right now, we’re being created by God in this self-donating act by which God is giving God’s very presence to us in our nothingness without God. Our body embodies the presence of God in our nothingness without God. God is speaking all things into being right now, and if God would cease this speaking, we’d all disappear. So we’re trying to become so silent that we can hear God speaking us into being. How can I become so silent that I can hear God speaking the sun into being as it moves across the sky, over the trees and fields rendered sacred in being created by God in their nothingness without God? And so the silence of our prayer embodies the deep, vast silence in which we learn from God how to listen to the living word of God, embodying itself as the reality of all things in their nothingness without God.  

Adapted from James Finley and Kirsten Oates, “The Way of a Pilgrim: Session 3,” Turning to the Mystics, season 9, ep. 6 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2024), podcast. Available as MP3 audio download and PDF transcript. 

Image credit and inspiration: Vlad Bagacian, woman sitting on a grey cliff (detail), 2018, photo, Romania, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image. Prayer is a practice for the long road of life, remembering that we are accompanied even when we feel alone. 

Story from Our Community:  

This morning, I sat in my quiet time and started to focus on my beloved family and friends. For a brief time, I had an overwhelming sense of nondualistic understanding. I know that this experience can be a way I approach my life each day through practice and God’s grace. It was a good place to be.  
—Catherine N. 

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