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The gift of silence we seek to cherish is chiefly the silence of adoring love for the mystery of God which words cannot express. In silence we pass through the bounds of language to lose ourselves in wonder. In this silence we learn to revere ourselves also; since Christ dwells in us we too are mysteries that cannot be fathomed, before which we must be silent until the day we come to know as we are known. In silence we honor the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies.
Only God knows them as they truly are, and in silence we learn to let go of the curiosity, presumption and condemnation that pretend to penetrate the mystery of their hearts. True silence is an expression of love, unlike the taciturnity that arises from fear and avoidance of relationship.
Silence takes root through our cultivation of solitary prayer in which we are free to take delight in our aloneness with God undisturbed. The Spirit helps us through our struggle with distraction to return to that inmost place of mutual love where God is simply present to us and we to God. If we are faithful here in our movement into silence, we will bring the same spirit into our liturgical worship and cherish the silences observed before and during the Eucharist and Offices. Without this constant opening of the heart in silence alone and together we are unable to feel the touch or hear the word of God. Silence is a constant source of restoration. Yet its healing power does not come cheaply. It depends on our willingness to face all that is within us, light and dark, and to heed all the inner voices that make themselves heard in silence.
Our ministries demand silence for their integrity, in particular our speaking to others and our listening to them in Christ’s name. Without silence words become empty. Without silence our hearts would find the burdens, the secrets and the pain of those we seek to help intolerable and overwhelming. And our ethos of silence is itself a healing gift to those who come to us seeking newness of life.
Each of the disciplines that protect silence in our common life calls for respect. The Greater Silence makes the night and early morning a healing time for recollection. Silent meals and those accompanied by music and reading accustom our guests and us to enjoying fellowship without needing to converse. Appointed days of retreat and quiet invite us to deepen our awareness and prayer. Our cells welcome us into the silence of God’s company, and we spurn that welcome if we rely unthinkingly on radio, music and conversation. We cultivate a thoughtful respect of one another’s need to stay focused by avoiding unnecessary interruptions.
Our own strength is not sufficient for weaving silence into the fabric of daily life. For the hours of the day to be permeated by mindfulness of the divine life we must be engaged in constant struggle, depending on God’s grace. Powerful forces are bent on separating us from God, our own souls, and one another through the din of noise and the whirl of preoccupation. Technology has intensified our risk of becoming saturated with stimuli. We who are called to maintain a lively interest in our own culture, so that we can bear witness to Christ within it, can never rest from the effort of discernment and resistance or we shall fall captive to scatteredness and stress.
Silence is not simply the absence of speaking. There’s a presence in silence. Compline takes me into that presence. Afterwards I do not want to speak nor do I want others to speak to me. Other services also lift me into a different space. I feel like I have worshipped at church if upon leaving the service, I find I’m in that different place, one that quiets the din of noise of my thoughts or the whirl of preoccupation. I’m grateful for the singing of the daily offices at the monastery and the Sunday service at my church which transport me there.