Intentional Silence

Liz Matney graduated from Bellarmine’s MAS program in 2006. She also has a BS in Geology from Indiana University-Bloomington. Liz has a 25 year work history with Sud-Chemie Inc. in KY, GA, CA, NM, MA –process analysis, mineral exploration, plant and laboratory management and SAP software implementations. When her SAP position was outsourced, she became the lunchtime cashier at Louisville Seminary for a summer. This led to photographing the new postcards for the seminary bookstore. Liz currently is senior business development manager and process analyst for Networld Media Group. Liz’s left brain enjoys data analysis and Excel Pivot Tables. Her right brain loves mixing photography and spirituality in what is now popularly termed “contemplative photography.” Liz will graduate from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in June 2013. She can be reached by email at

“Virtually every spiritual tradition that holds a vision of human transformation at its heart also claims that a practice of intentional silence is a non-negotiable. Period. You just have to do it.”  Cynthia Bourgeault,  in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.

Intentional silence. Sounds easy. Visit a monastery, go on a retreat (silent, of course), or take a class. There it is easy. Now go home and after a few weeks, try to routinely find twenty minutes once or twice a day to enter into intentional silence. Not so easy. It’s not quiet enough. Rising thirty minutes early so you can make coffee first, you reach for your iPhone to set the timer (using the harp tone); but you check email, then the weather, a bit of news and suddenly it’s time to get ready for work. No time to pray.

This was my honest struggle as I led a Sunday morning group in contemplative prayer this past summer.

Wendy Farley suggests, “the first practice is to desire practice…” (in Gathering Those Driven Away: A Theology of Incarnation.) Of course, I desire to practice – I’m in the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation program “Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats.” I’ve read all the “why’s” and am studying all the “how’s” but still, a regular practice eludes me. My spiritual director recommended I pray for the desire to pray. I have to do this during our sessions to be sure I actually take the time to pray.

It’s not that I can’t establish routine in my life. I work out at a gym with trainers 4-5 times each week during noontime. I can feel and see the benefits of regular workouts.  I go to work, I go to choir rehearsal and I eat at regular times. But finding time to pray…

In the first Shalem residency, I experienced deep intentional silent prayer every day. Tilden Edwards and other Shalem staff told us to trust the process when learning and leading the prayer forms. When we did, it led to an experience worth journaling about. We approached the silent prayer time with expectancy, not expectations. When this was true, the silence came easy – while we were there. I came home and the frantic pace of life took over.

In the Sunday morning contemplative prayer group, when I lead using the rhythm Shalem suggests, everyone experienced silence and insights. An opportunity to sit in silence and/or to listen to God drew them back each week. Most told me that it was the only day they found time for silent prayer.

So as I prepare to fulfill a requirement of the Shalem program by leading an introductory session followed by a six week series on contemplative prayer forms, I’m being very intentional about this intentional silence.  If you are interested in hearing about the introductory session (location in Louisville, KY/day/time) send an email to me and I’ll send out details once they’re set.

“Once you experience the Beloved of your heart,

Ever present at each moment,

You will never again feel alone.”

(Nan Merrill, Lumen Christi – Holy Wisdom: Journey to Awakening)

2 thoughts on “Intentional Silence

  1. The introductory session is Sunday, Sep 23, 2012 at Christ Church United Methodist (Brownsboro Rd & Blankenbaker, west of I-264) 2 – 4:45 pm. The sessions begin Sunday Oct 7th, 2-4pm at Christ Church United Methodist. All are welcome and there is no cost. Email me so I’m ready with handouts,
    Liz Matney

  2. Thank you Liz for sharing with us your journey beyond the MAS program. Cynthia Bourgeault, in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening wrote one of the best books I have read on the inner experience of contemplative prayer. I was thankful for her ability to describe the indescribable that is alluded to in many other books both historical and current.

    Recommend Richard Rohr’s daily emails as short “seeds of insight” if you have not read them. He and Cynthia have presented seminars for Center for Action & Contemplation ministry.

    I would encourage you to write again and let us know how leading the course on Contemplative Prayer went for your Shalem Program requirement.

    Thank you Liz,
    Claudia Hill Duffee, MA

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