Monday, May 23, 2011

My First Language is Silence

Talk is cheap. It's amazing how often we can verbalize merely to hear ourselves sound important or to drown out the silence, perhaps both. Many folks seemingly have to have a radio playing or television blaring--white noise--in order to feel secure. Others cannot be apart from their beloved texting, which, while silent in and of itself, creates a cacophony within.   

Silence is not merely the absence of external sound.  It is, in reality, a state of being, and, as such, does not drop out of the sky, but needs cultivation, through a life of contemplation, meditation, and prayer.  St. Romuald, founder of the Camladolese Benedictines, tells the monk and nun  "like a skilled angler on the lookout for a catch keep a careful eye on your thoughts.The path you must follow is in the Psalms--never leave it...and if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more" (Brief Rule 3,4,6).  But even when one is not reading, he or she is called back to mindful attention; this applies to all, not just the vowed Religious.

Like a beautiful garden, weeds need removing, the soul needs emptying of attachments which block its way to the Beloved. This is kenosis. As this weeding takes place, emptiness takes hold, wherein the temptation is to fill it with the white noise mentioned above. It is here that letting go even further must take place, this terrifying vulnerability wherein God must be realized; this is theosis.   

Are people afraid of what God might be saying to them? Maybe it's what we don't want to hear sometimes, so better to drown it out, rather than be pulled kicking and screaming from our comfort zone. Discipleship in Christ is not about having things exactly as we want them, but transformation. It is through silence that we learn to listen to that still small voice, whether we are in a physical monastery, or our monastic cell, which is wherever one finds oneself.  

So, yes, Silence is my first language, because it slows me down, fine tunes my inner hearing, opens me not always to happiness but, in fact, oftentimes pain, but, a deep-found joy, nevertheless. It is to this that my monastic life witnesses.


Joe Rawls said...

Good linking of kenosis and theosis, which are really two sides of the same coin.

An Episcopal priest whom I actually admire a great deal went to our local monastery (since burned down) planning to spend a week. She left after two days because she could not deal with the silence.

BTW, the monastery would never have been mistaken for a Trappist place.

Br. Yossi, CoS Cam said...

Methinks priestly formation needs to include getting acquainted with silence. Imagine the impact on liturgy and the whole Church if we did that!

Thom, SFO said...

One of my favorite spiritual texts to meditate on is "When God Is Silent" by Mo. Barbara Brown Taylor.