Whenever I stand before beauty, I tend to be drawn into what I call a natural silence. There are many kinds of beauty: a loaf of bread--just out of the oven, a rotten log surrounded by buttercups, a tear, a smile, mist rising from the pond, flowers struggling in the summer heat, orchards and vineyards laden with fruit. It may not be the Sistine Chapel but in these moments also I often hear an unknown voice chanting, SILENCIO. What do you say when there's nothing to say? Say nothing!
I reflected on this last week while I was in silence during our community retreat. We didn’t have any sister-guards standing around calling out SILENCIO, and for the most part that wasn’t needed. In a monastic community, silence during a retreat is kind of taken for granted. We need to go beyond just taking it for granted though. Each time I attend a retreat, the value of silence is renewed for me. I find myself being encouraged and invited to build time for solitude and silence every day—not just while on retreat.
I will be leading a contemplative retreat in Colorado Springs in October of 2010 and was recently asked by one of the leaders if the retreat was a totally silent retreat. In my prayer I reflected on how to answer that question and these are the words I was given:
“Although the retreat is not totally silent we assume that if you come to a contemplative experience you will have some desire to be led to the deepening places which requires a faithful listening to the spaces between the words. We would also hope to find in you a willingness to help create the kind of atmosphere in which your companion seekers in the retreat will be led to live in the shade and the shadow of God’s wings.”
As I think over that answer I am reminded of a moment during our community retreat when I was drawn into gratitude because of the sensitivity of the people who work at our monastery. I was alone in the dining room having coffee after one of the conferences. Two of our workman came in and sat down at a table to have coffee. Aware of my presence, they were totally silent even though they ordinarily talk at their coffee break. Their choice of silence struck me as a gesture of loving support for my retreat. I received it as their gift to me.
As I walk through the garden these hot summer days it is as though all of nature is crying out without words: SILENCIO.
Where do you find moments for silence
and solitude in your daily life?
What calls you into the quiet?
The Moon Flower lifts up its face
and again I hear the invitation,