Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Experience of Silence

Yesterday, in New Jersey, the temperature topped 100 degrees F. This kind of heat we don’t experience very often. The hot weather brought back to mind the first time I visited St. Joseph’s Abbey, a trappist monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. The month was August. Turning on to the abbey road (no pun intended), I slowly passed through forest, stream and field. Halfway up the hill towards the monastery church I stopped the car – shut off the engine – and stepped outside. As a man who grew up with a parking lot for a neighbor, I am never prepared for silence. It is a surprise. Here the breath of the wind works its way through the forest - like falling domino tiles, the tree tops sway one to another. The sweet steamy air surrounds me in warm embrace – and I see the air rise up from the earth, like a rippling vision of heat lingering above the desert ground. This is a holy place. A place where you must leave your worries, your concerns in God’s hands. The Taize Community says this about “silence" -

“Silence makes us ready for a new meeting with God. In silence, God’s word can reach the hidden corners of our hearts. In silence, it proves to be "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit" (Hebrews 4:12). In silence, we stop hiding before God, and the light of Christ can reach and heal and transform even what we are ashamed of.

Christ says: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). We need silence in order to welcome these words and put them into practice. When we are agitated and restless, we have so many arguments and reasons not to forgive and not to love too easily. But when we "have calmed and quieted our soul", these reasons turn out to be quite insignificant. Maybe we sometimes avoid silence, preferring whatever noise, words or distraction, because inner peace is a risky thing: it makes us empty and poor, disintegrates bitterness and leads us to the gift of ourselves. Silent and poor, our hearts are overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, filled with an unconditional love. Silence is a humble yet secure path to loving”.

Though the Abbey is far from Tibet, the Tibetan music of Nawang Khechog always reminds me of this quiet place, where one can always experience God's silence. Listen to the music, close your eyes, and you will feel His presence.

*all images ©bjm

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