Archive for August, 2010
“Many things that seemed unaccountable crosses have proved indeed to be hidden blessings; and so will it be always in our good God’s way of dealing with us.” (Blessed Mary MacKillop)
Read about Australia’s Blessed Mary MacKillop here
As a man of great prayer, Paul of the Cross inculcated its importance most forcefully by word and example.
He wished his followers to pray without ceasing and desired our communities to become real schools of prayer, leading to a deep experience of God.
From him we learn the value and practice of an inward and outward silence that gives depth to our lives. This silence fosters the inner peace and calm necessary for the spirit of prayer to grow; it frees us from harassing cares, and hushes the clamour of the demands made upon us daily.
(Passionist Constitutions No. 37)
In an age when there is a multitude of ministries in the church for laity, clergy and members of religious communities, and when there are hectic activity and endless demands, there is a great deal of burnout. Henri Nouwen is one of the best known spiritual teachers of contemporary ministers. In books like Reaching Out, Out of Solitude, and The Way of the Heart, he speaks of the need for regular times of solitude for effective ministry, and for the avoidance of the activist disease of exhaustion. “The goal of our life is not people. It is God. Only in God shall we find the rest we seek. It is therefore to solitude that we must return, not alone, but with all those whom we embrace through our ministry”.
Many women will be familiar with Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s little book, Gift from the Sea. It is not written in an explicitly Christian context, but surely is in harmony with the Christian call to time spent in genuine solitude. By the time of its twentieth-anniversary edition in 1970 it had reached many and still continues to do so. Disagreeing with John Donne’s “No Man is an Island”, which we sang lustily for many years, she wrote from her island solitude that we are all islands – but islands in a common sea and for truth’s sake we must recognise this.
Is not the fundamental reason for our needing this solitude the fact that we are, each of us, inescapably solitaries? Is each of us not a unique being, a one-of-a-kind image of the infinite God? Does not each of us have the experience of an incommunicable depth, an awareness that, however much we might want to do so, in pain and in longing, we cannot wholly open our inmost being to another? The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke speaks of “the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other”. If I will not accept my own solitude, how can I accept what I cannot escape, the solitude of my death? No matter how many loved ones are with me, humanly speaking I die alone.
And yet we are social beings. If we would live our lives truly, we are stretched, extended, called to more life by responding to both aspects of our personal mystery. The temptation in recent times has been to all but submerge the solitary in the social. Perhaps we are on the way to honouring and nurturing the life-giving integration of both aspects of our human mystery. Then indeed we would have hoped of a deepened relation with God, with our own true selves, with others, and with creation.
(Silence, Solitude, Simplicity – A Hermit’s Love Affair with a Noisy, Crowded and Complicated World by Sister Jenny Hall OSB, p. 89)
We need to be clear what silence is not. In the first place, silence is not just an absence of speech or sound or noise, any more than peace is merely an absence of conflict. Silence has its own being, its own reality, its own richness, its own presence, and its own nurturing power. True silence is an affirmation, not a negation, and is the precondition, as noted earlier, of true reverence for speech. Just as there is “a time to speak,” there is also “a time to be silent” (Ecclesiastices 3:7).
Second, true silence is not to be confused with its counterfeits, its deformations. Most have known at some time or another the destructive silence of someone’s bitter refusal to communicate – the so called “silent treatment”. Further, we have known, by either observation or experience, the silence that simply cuts another off in disdain, rejection. And we have experienced silence that is merely empty, nervous, useless.
Third, silence is not an end in itself. Exterior silence is for interior quiet, and both aspects of silence are for the world, all dimensions of the word. The word – whether it be the divine Word, human words, the word of the indwelling Spirit in our own hearts, or “the word” in the communication of arts or the created word – the word has its origin in silence. It can only be heard in silence, and if it is to be effective and fruitful, it must rest in that receptive silence and be nurtured to maturity there.
What, then, is real silence? It is a positive receptivity, a creative waiting, a welcoming openness. It is openness to God, to our deepest selves, to others, both as individual persons and as the human community, to beauty and truth and goodness, to mystery – and to the word of Scripture that reveals God, to the Word who is God’s son. The word that brought the created world into being was spoken out of the creative silence of God. Scripture is full of the call to “Hear the word of the Lord!” And the daily prayer of Jews today, the Shema, begins with that ringing call from Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel”.
If we are to hear, truly and deeply, we must be silent enough to really listen. “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother: my soul is like a weaned child that is with me” (Psalm 131:2). “In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
(Silence, Solitude, Simplicity – A Hermit’s Love Affair with a Noisy, Crowded and Complicated World by Sister Jenny Hall OSB, p. 72-73)