By Fr. Bjorn, OES
Many years ago, I found myself on retreat at a hermitage in the middle of the Texas desert. The superior of that community, during one of our spiritual direction chats, articulated to me that in order for her to truly reach a contemplative state, that there needed to be perfect environmental silence around her.
At the time, I agreed with her. Of course silence on an environmental level was necessary for contemplation. How could it happen any other way? Of course, I was still a very green 26 years old at the time, and had yet to truly experience the inner stillness of which she spoke.
She further articulated to me that when there was not perfect silence around her, that it wore on her nerves, sometimes to the point of bringing her to tears. Friends, this holy woman is not the only person to tell me this story, and I have been guilty of acting it out myself from time to time.
Now that I am older, I look back on this shared moment between myself and the good Superior of that hermitage, and I think to myself, “well, that’s just silly.” You see the enclosure in which I currently find myself is quite remote, and even out here there is rarely perfect environmental silence. Birds chirp, dogs bark, the wind blows and the house creaks and settles. Even though I do enjoy a high level of environmental silence, it is far from perfect.
It has since occurred to me that, where contemplative prayer, personal silence and monastic discipline are concerned, it is the personal intention to be quiet that matters more than environmental silence. I like to call this “the attitude of silence”, because it is the intention of the person to be silent, rather than the situation that they find themselves in that provokes silence within them.
So, let the birds sing, the house creak and the wind blow. These things are beyond our control anyway, so there is little use in getting upset because they infringe on your perfect silence. Harbor the attitude of silence and I guarantee that you will find yourself just as still and satisfied as those who do enjoy perfect environmental silence.
Reflections from the monks and nuns of OES.