Every Jewish worship service has space for silent prayer. Yet, many of us find it difficult to pray and reflect in such moments. We tend to feel most comfortable when either speaking or listening. “Judaism,” said Elie Wiesel, “has its times of silence. But we never talk about them.”
Perhaps it would be wise to do so. In a culture where information enters our consciousness at a startling pace, taking time for and appreciating silence can renew and refresh us. Silence can help us discern the music amidst the noise.
Here are some tips for letting silence work its magic:
1. Close your eyes: The visual landscape naturally draws our attention. We can redirect that attention inward, clearing our mind and letting us appreciate the silence more fully.
It is no accident that a tradition developed in Jewish worship to close our eyes during the saying of our most important prayer, the Shema. Focus turns to sound rather than sight.
2. Listen to the silence: An article recently appeared in the New York Times about a famous musical piece by John Cage. Entitled 4’33, it consists of no sound. A group of musicians walk up to their instruments and sit down quietly for four minutes and thirty three seconds.
The thinking behind the piece is that any sound constitutes music. The audience is meant to listen to the sounds around them without the distraction of the instruments. We each hear something different, and the environment creates its own music.
3. Breathe: The Hebrew word for breath–Neshima–also means soul. Breathing can open up the channel between our mind and heart. When we hear our breath, we hear what is inside of us.
4. Make the most of the subsequent moments: Silence can magnify the audible. After a few moments of silence, words can feel more piercing. Our minds and our hearts open wider. The subsequent moments can lift up our hearts and make the entire worship service more lasting and meaningful.
5. Read a short passage: Words shape our thoughts. During a moment of silence, the right words can direct our minds upward and inward. In our Reform Jewish prayerbook, an anonmymous passage always tugs at my heart: “Pray as if everything depends on God. Act as if everything depends on you.”