Welcome to Part 2 of a blog series ‘DC Abbey’, reflections on my 3 days at a Benedictine monastery in DC NE, St. Anselm’s Abbey. I share to hopefully inspire others to a monastic retreat. I value critical feedback, so please comment below.
As I shared in DC Abbey 1, I went to St. Anselm’s with no real agenda, but I did seek something, which I will share in a later post. I had to first encounter an unexpected enemy: silence.
Monasteries are quiet places. Some orders observe the “lesser silence” of the day, and the “greater silence” of the night; the former is a preference for silence which can be punctured by speaking, and the latter is a strict rule of silence. As a guest, I was under no compulsion to observe this silence, but, and no pun intended, when in Rome…
I have shared previously about silence. Without a TV, radio, internet, books, people, etc., you realize how far and fast you are running away from silence. When one turns to face it, it can be like a yawning maw waiting to consume you. I don’t understand it; I am not even sure if others feel the same. I just know it scares me. I felt a thousand emotions overwhelm me, and all I could do was cry and scream silently. It was as if the sky grew green with a hurricane, and a tidal wave rose above me, crushed and pummeled me in the undertow. Then it was calm. And I could breathe again. Everything was still, and felt… truthful.
As Elijah was fleeing for his life, God called him to a mountain, and said to wait here, for the presence of the Lord will walk by. Then there was a strong wind, an earthquake, a fire, lastly a gentle whisper. God was in the last of these only. Then Elijah stepped out to meet him. I think of this story when I consider what God taught me in this moment.
Before we pray, before we do anything, we ought to be silent. Silence is a prelude to the revelation of God. In Revelation, before all the prayers of the saints are cast down to the earth with fire, there is silence in heaven for half an hour. Before Jesus drew his first breath as a child, there was likely silence in that manger. After he breathed his last, there was silence. When one dwells in silence, he acts in expectation that God will reveal himself. He considers God’s word more important than his own. He values God’s creative word more highly than the destructive words of the world.
After leaving the monastery, I found the world so loud. I learned here a major difference between the world and God: the world is intrusive and oppressive, but God is humble, polite, and freeing. Each day we are assaulted with advertisements, emails, video messages, voicemails, pundits, unnecessary news stories and their ilk. I would never be one to say shut out the world completely, but we do need extended periods of utter silence to better discern truth. The world intrudes and robs us of silence to use, abuse and separate us from the living God. It wants to make us hunger and thirst for more of the world, yet never satisfy us.
Contrast this with God, who is loving, kind, compassionate, who stands close by desiring to be loved and calls us to him, but never forces himself upon us, never makes demands. He persists in offering us freedom, and he offers food and drink that, had only once, satisfies always.
I knew all this intellectually, but I knew it in my soul after encountering God in the silence, and that has made all the difference. It was after finding God in the silence that he and I could begin to speak.