Soon after my ordination, I was sent to serve in a retirement home. After the service, a decrepit old woman came up to me and said, “Father Anthony, I would like to learn how to pray. What can I do about this? I have already asked those who knew something, but I never received a sensible answer, so I thought that since you probably know nothing, maybe you will accidentally say something useful.” – “What is it that you would like to learn?” “Well,” she says, “I pray all the time without ever feeling God’s presence.” What happened next went just as she expected. I “blurted out” the first thing that came to my mind, “How can you expect God to be able to put in a word if you keep talking?” – “What should I do?” I said, “Do this: In the morning, when you get up, clean your room, prepare yourself, hide in some secluded corner everything that makes your room look messy, light your lamp, sit comfortably in an armchair and DO NOT pray. I know that you are good at knitting, so you can knit something calmly before the face of God and be silent. Look at the photos of your relatives, look out the window, do nothing else…”
A week later, I served there again, and the old woman (I was already trembling awaiting her arrival) came and said, “It worked!” I was completely amazed because although my hope was great, I did not know what to expect. “How do you know that it worked?” – “Well, I sat down to knit, and at first I only heard the sound of my knitting pins. Then this sound became a monotonous rhythm. I kept listening to it, and gradually, thanks to the quiet sound of my pins, I suddenly felt how quiet it was around me. I began to listen to this silence, and suddenly it became clear to me that at the core of this silence there was someone’s presence. And I realized that God was there. And then” she said,“ I was still not praying but I just sat there, in God’s presence.”
This is very similar to what a peasant once said to a famous French priest in the 19th century. That priest was a rector of a small rural church. Once he noticed that some old man always came to the church and just sat there without doing anything. He asked him, “What do you do for hours in the church? You don’t move your lips saying prayers and you have no prayer beads. What do you do then?” The old man said, “He looks at me, I look at Him, and we have such a good time together…” This is the state that I was trying to speak about during this talk: the inner silence that allows you to listen to the outer silence and in its depths to sense the presence of the Ultimate Silence, which is full of life and also life-giving.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds