Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Entering the Silence
I woke up on Friday morning, my first full day at the monastery, grateful for the pure silence and the scent of farmfields that surround their land.
As I did not attend Matins, I was in the chapel at 5:30 am, preparing for Lauds in the darkness beneath the choir. I looked towards the altar and crucifix, asking God, "Is this where I'm supposed to be? Why am I here? What am I doing? Do I have a Vocation at all?"
I thought of all the people in my life wanting an answer, wanting to know if I'm going to, in my mother's words, "join a convent", and all the people all around me who keep telling me, "You have to make a decision!"
Every fibre of my being was screaming, "NO! I'm not ready!"
And as I prayed in the profound darkness of that morning, I didn't hear God make any demands upon me at all. The only thing I knew was His patient presence, and a sense that He wasn't asking anything of me at all. I considered the insight from the night before, to rest in passivity, waiting for Him. And slowly, all that anxiety began to ebb away.
I heard the nuns enter the choir above me, the soft ding/thump of the bell, and the sound from the pitch pipe to cue the plaintive tones of the nun beginning the chanted Latin prayers.
And from there, the Cistercian desert enclosed me within my own private cloister. It didn't matter if my questions weren't answered, because God wasn't offering answers. He was offering something else, something that required I let go of myself if I was to open my hands to receive what He had for me.
In that surrender, I found I couldn't even pray.
Since I could not directly participate in the Latin psalter, I prayed from my breviary, yet could not recall what I was praying. Nothing stood out. They were just words. All I was doing was saying words. When I tried to pray in any other way, there were no words, nothing. So all I did when I completed each of the Hours throughout the day, was profess my love to Jesus, because it was the only prayer I could muster.
And that, without emotion, without sentiment, just the bare truth.
It was a disconcerting day, one that maybe is a day for "detox". In my dryness, I couldn't even read. I picked up the Bible but it was meaningless. I wrote a little in my notebook, but the words were forced. Otherwise, the only thing I could do was sit or walk and then sit again, and think.
It wasn't that I really even missed my normal distractions. It was nice to be without them, but I didn't really know how to exist without some kind of direction. I was supposed to be praying or reading, and I could do neither. It was shocking to me to realize that, here I was, perfectly boring and God wanted to be with me? Why?!
At least I could think, though, and my thoughts wandered back to the previous evening. I realized that perhaps I was there because, unlike all the other seeming "spiritual giants" around me, I am a God's remedial student. There are people who are very in tune with God and seem to "get it" immediately. That's not to say they don't work at it, but in comparison, I know I'm really struggling. Studying theology helps, but it's kinda hard to study oneself into simplicity. I'm laboring and laboring and "not getting it" and so God in His infinite wisdom and patience, called me out of the classroom, into the hallway, not to say, "Jump now!" but rather, "Wait for me, you have no idea what you're doing and you're not ready yet!"
I realized that God had more to say to me. He's, even now, laying a foundation, and that morning when I met with Sr. A. for the first time, all of this was, in a way, confirmed.
One of the first things she said to me in our meeting was that I should just be open to God and follow where He leads. She said that only He knew why I was there; whether because I was supposed to enter the monastery or for some other reason. He had a plan. Sister said that the time is NEVER wasted, and usually, both they and the person visiting benefit in some way. She said that she loves to see how God is working in people's lives and how He brought them to visit their monastery, and so with this initial conversation I was able to relax, realizing that the pressure to make ANY decision was simply not present.
All of the pressure was on God, which is actually the way He likes it. As Sister said, when it's time to jump off the cliff, He'll give the push at just the right moment.
Throughout that day as I shed all the residue from my life, I became conscious of the eternal presence of God. It was active, even in the deep dryness, and it reminded me once again that prayer isn't about "feeling" but is really the perfect center of being.
Thus, even as I felt a part of myself dying and falling away, I knew that truly, I was beginning to live in a way I never had before, and I realized this through almost a clinical detachment that would have amused me if the silence had not been so deafening.