Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oh Blessed Silence

aaaahhh, the Sound of Silence. When was the last time you were really silent? No, I mean without the radio in the background, without the computer in front of you, without half-listening to the feet pounding the floor upstairs. Silent.

Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart. ~Mother Teresa

I never used to think of myself as a lover of quiet. In college when my friends were going on weekend silent retreats I was heading, well, probably to the bar. Or in moments of better judgment I might have even been studying or playing frisbee. I liked walks in quiet, but a whole weekend of silence? Why? In the later years of college and ever since I have become drawn into the beauty of silence. I relish moments of deep conversation with God with no worldly distractions. To step away from the noise is to step into better listening, clearer hearing. Listening leads to better understanding. Silence is the needed refreshment to the soul.

Last weekend my wonderful husband sent me on a much needed retreat to Holy Cross Abbey, a Trappist Monastery for a weekend of blissful silence. The retreat house has many beautiful rooms that all cater to the need for quiet reflection. The individual bedrooms are small, simple, sparse, and perfect for a mama who's tired of the mess around my feet. Nestled at the feet of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the panorama of beauty is breathtaking. I was partial to the sun room, with a wall of windows facing the Blue Ridge, with simple chairs and a ledge for my feet and coffee. The expanse of land that they own (rented out to cattle farmers) provides a definition of separation from the bustling roads and city lights. Of course, no matter where my feet led me wandering around the scenic grounds, I always found my way back to the Chapel for some face-time with God in the Tabernacle.

The hospitality is almost overwhelming. From the informal "check-in" and the Guest Master to answer your questions, to the food available, you are made to feel welcome and at home... just without the toys to trip over or the laundry to attend. The kitchen is stocked with snacks and coffee/tea, there for you anytime. The simple clean-up after meals is a calm and rewarding service. Their only rule is punctuality to meals and that silence is observed.

I was surprised at how self-conscious I did NOT feel at all. Although friendly smiles are exchanged between guests, the lack of the expectation for interaction left me feeling very free from judgment. I did not give the other guests much thought, and it did not occur to me they would feel any different. Have you ever experienced eating in silence? The incidental noise is loud, but unobtrusive to your quiet demeanor.

Perhaps the best way to explain is that the silence around you becomes an inner silence, a peace and stillness of mind and soul. Walking outside, I was shocked to hear a squirrel chewing on a nut. With the backdrop of the wind, I was acutely aware of the distinct chirps of the different birds, and other than the occasional "moo" from a cow, that was the only constant sound. Several times a day the silence is broken with the bells from the monastery, calling the monks to prayer. We joined them in their chapel for the Liturgy of the Hours and Mass.

Joining these holy monks in prayer in truly a grace-filled experience. They pronounce each word of the prayer deliberately and reflectively. St. Teresa of Avila writes that our vocal prayer should be said with such attentiveness that it becomes also mental prayer; that you cannot truly pray without paying complete attention and awareness of the One to Whom we are speaking. These monks exemplify that and draw you into deeper prayer with their voices. Since there was no time-line for my day, I was free to sit back and experience this in a way that cannot happen in day-to-day life. Try telling the toddlers that we're going to spend 10 minutes praying the Our Father.

I was blessed to take advantage of the Sacrament of Confession with a very old, very holy priest. Having been surrounded by silence, and to know that is how he lives his every day made me very aware of my own words. It was even more humbling that usual to pronounce the sounds of each sin, and very cleansing. The prayer of absolution gets me every time, and the uninhibited joy that fills me after!

I returned to my wonderful family rested and refreshed, and filled. Filled with Peace and Grace and ready to better show Love.

The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace. ~Mother Teresa


Unknown said...

Wow! I want to hear more! I'm so excited about the silence part.