January 24, May 25, September 24
Chapter 6: On the Spirit of Silence
Let us do what the Prophet says:
"I said, 'I will guard my ways,
that I may not sin with my tongue.
I have set a guard to my mouth.'
I was mute and was humbled,
and kept silence even from good things" (Ps. 38:2-3).
Here the Prophet shows
that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times
to refrain even from good speech,
so much the more ought the punishment for sin
make us avoid evil words.
Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important,
permission to speak should rarely be granted
even to perfect disciples,
even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation;
for it is written,
"In much speaking you will not escape sin" (Prov. 10:19),
and in another place,
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21).
For speaking and teaching belong to the mistress;
the disciple's part is to be silent and to listen.
And for that reason
if anything has to be asked of the Superior,
it should be asked
with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence.
But as for coarse jests and idle words
or words that move to laughter,
these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban,
and for such conversation
we do not permit a disciple to open her mouth.
Words, even kind words, are not always a blessing. In the absence of
silence, basically meaningless rituals of speech may actually serve
as distancers, shorthand acknowledgement of the other(s) with the
unspoken agreement that "Sufficient attention has been paid, now
leave me alone!" I'm not saying all such rituals are empty, they
aren't, but most of us have a few that really could be examined.
When we are alone is the best and easiest time to cultivate silence.
Turn off the car radio, temporarily (or even permanently!) kill your
television. Switch on the answer phone and turn the volume down.
Examine all the areas where you have added noise you truly do not
need. Why? Because noise is usually added as distraction, and
distraction is what the monastic doesn't want. Even boredom- another
reason we add noise- can be trotted out under its old monastic name
of "accidie" and teach us lots. In the desert of boredom, one can
confront the lackluster self! No wonder we don't like it!
Some family church experimentation might be possible, but NEVER push
others into your choice of monastic style. It will do them and you a
great disservice. Anything attempted here must be done with consent
of all and without being doctrinaire, especially if there are
children involved. Do you really want to run the Villa von Trapp the
way the Captain did?? I hope not...
With those precautions, here's a suggestion or two for family/spouse
silence. You might try a sort of "grand silence" in the morning, say
just until after the first cup of coffee or so. This would be welcome
to many who'd just as soon not speak in the AM anyhow. But don't
leave it at silence. Remember those ritual phrases of affection or
acknowledgment I spoke about? Learn to do them without words, with
the eyes, with a smile, with a touch.
Married Benedictines often err in the translation of monastic styles
into their own lives on the side of celibacy. Hey, all Benedictines
include a LOT of married people. For them, the celibate restraint is
removed. An affectionate kiss or caress without words can often
convey volumes of love that a cliched "Good morning, dear." does not.
We can blush at our own emotions, use words to cover them and our own
embarrassment. Try- for however brief a time- to express all you feel
without words. I think you'll be impressed.
With children involved, great care must be taken and often silence
foresworn altogether. Always remember that one's children and spouse
have a higher moral claim on one's vocation than Oblation does. The
will of God will come to you more clearly through your marriage or
parenthood than it will from any secondary source, including the Holy
If, and only if, children are willing to enter into a period of
silence each day, for them, make it short. We are dealing, as you
well know, with antsy kids and short attention spans. They're
SUPPOSED to be that way: respect it. Suggestion? What about 5 minutes
of taped reading at dinner? What about doing the cleanup in silence
with smiles? What about trying either just for Lent?
Be prepared for your efforts to fail. Not everyone can do these
things. If the experiment doesn't work, DROP IT at once. Never, ever
force your own vocation down the throats of others. Always remember
that there is great asceticism in the acceptance of noise we wish we
could avoid. Always remember that there is a hermitage of deep peace
and serenity in every heart, but you must build it with God's help.
Love and prayers,