… There is a little phrase from Thomas Merton (1915-1968) that I find very beautiful: “The world of men [and women] has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude, which is necessary to some extent, for the fullness of human living.” A few lines later Merton adds: “Man [sigh] cannot be happy for long unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual life which are hidden in the depths of his own soul. If man is exiled constantly from his own home, locked out of his spiritual solitude, he ceases to be a true person.”
There is only one way for people to confront themselves and that is through silence. All of us need to develop a tolerance for silence, a home to ourselves, a place to touch the wellsprings of life inside us. There is nothing as valuable as silence. All of us must go back and be in touch with our inner resources.
There is one passage that I like very much in the Camaldolese Constitutions that reads: “We are frequently cast out from our hearts as the sea casts out a dead body.” This is very vivid and well described. We go into our hearts and are pushed out. We cannot take it. We cannot stay. We cannot be still. Yet as these Constitutions state, “[T]o the quiet and persevering hermit the silence of the cell brings a blessed sweetness and a refreshing sweetness that tastes of paradise.” This can be glorious literature for people who want to escape; even so, it is difficult to deny the truth of it.
Thomas Merton quotes a Syrian monk, in his book Contemplative Prayer: “If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance… In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then there is born something that draws us to silence… If only you practice this, untold light will dawn on you in consequence… after a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.” All the mystics say that once you get acclimated to silence, there is a great sweetness in it.
Anthony de Mello, Seek God Everywhere, pp 1-2
I have often felt drawn to silence, as a place of refuge really. Still, until now, I have remained an unreliable friend. Until recently. During a retreat our small community gave, the need for silence became obvious to me: silence within myself, silence between and around us. A silence to enfold all of us for the length of our weekend.
I know the sound and feel of silence because I live part of the year in an old house, filled with silence, a silence so present you can touch it, a sort of holy bubble.
My new beginnings in silence have shown me that I need to step away from my favorite addiction: Internet. At the end of the day, when I review it, I recognize where I find the taste of honey, that taste which comes from feeling good about myself. “Real books” do that; a series of skimmed articles online don’t.
My times of silent prayer are humbling moments as Richard Rohr says so well in Finding God in the Depths of Silence (you may also want to listen to a lecture he gave last year on the same topic). But then, I seem to feel humbled quite often these days, finding myself never quite as wise or knowledgeable as I would like to think I am.
Silence is my latest adventure, my new Camino, as I am forever longing to join the One who calls each one of us. Silence is also like a beautiful pool of turquoise water with a diamond waiting to be found at the bottom…
Art: Zen photography of Thomas Merton