By Br. Dennis
As I write this the community is in The Great Silence, which is three days of profound silence with the exception of the Divine Office. No email, no devices, no television, no earbuds channeling music, just silence. We tend to do a lot of quiet reading and some writing, which I appreciate, although I am aware of the possible element of distraction of such. I also like to sit in the bay window of the enclosure that faces Roses Road moving my finger along the smooth wooden circular grooves of the Finger-Labyrinth with my eyes closed until I reach the center and then trace my way back out again; or dip the pointed brush in water, draw something simple on the Buddha Board and sit peacefully and watch the image disappear, ever reminded that nothing is permanent. These are simple and contemplative.
Sunday we were in the jails with all of its high energy. Just two nights ago we were all gathered around the table laughing with one another over a game of Qwirkle. Such things are essential to monastic balance and good health. But now we are in The Great Silence – listening. Such is the life of a monk in the CDL Monastery.
Cultivating silence is essential to the value of listening, but one does not guarantee the other. Many of you know (and possibly annoyingly so) that I now live with a significant hearing deficit that requires that I wear devices in each ear in order to improve my hearing, which I am fortunate to have access to. I also must admit that there seem to be times when I conveniently forget to put them in. Maybe I’m actually beginning to like the silence. It’s a weird tension. I like the serenity of not having to hear cars and leaf-blowers, but then I would miss the bird’s song and the monastery chimes.
The challenge of hearing impairment has taught me something important – something that speaks to a deeper truth, and that is this: Just because I can hear is no guarantee that I will listen. Evidently, Benedict was aware of this as well and the fact that the very first word in his Rule is Listen attests to the essential nature of listening in the monastic vocation.
The Great Silence helps us to listen for God – and listen to God. We have other smaller observances of silence in the monastery as well. The Grand Silence extends from the end of Compline each night through breakfast the next day. We take most all of our meals in silence. Those who have worshipped with us on Fridays know that silence is an important element in how we worship God in the Holy Eucharist together.
Most importantly is the awareness that the deeper silent place within me is where intuition lives. It’s my Sacred Self. It’s the source of Perennial Wisdom. When I can listen from this place I just might experience a sense of the Mystery of God.
The time will come soon enough for us to return to our other monastic obligations. But for now our task is simply to listen…in silence.