by Catherine Doherty.
It seems strange to say, but what can help modern man find the answers to his own mystery, and the mystery of him in whose image he is created, is silence and solitude—in a word, the desert. Modern man needs these things more than the hermits of old.
If we are to witness to Christ in today’s marketplaces, where there are constant demands on our whole person, we need silence. If we are to be always available not only physically, but by empathy, sympathy, friendship, understanding, and boundless caritas, we need silence.
True silence is the search of man for God.
True silence is a suspension bridge that a soul in love with God builds to cross the dark, frightening gullies of its own mind, the strange chasms of temptation, the depthless precipices of its own fears that impede its way to God.
True silence is the speech of lovers. For only love knows its beauty, completeness, and utter joy.
True silence is a garden enclosed, where alone the soul can meet its God. It is a sealed fountain that he alone can unseal to slacken the soul’s infinite thirst for him.
This silence, then, will break forth in a love that overflows in the service of the neighbor without counting the cost.
It will witness to Christ anywhere, always. Availability will become delightsome and easy, for in each person the soul will see the face of Him whom she loves.
Hospitality will be deep and real, for a silent heart is a loving heart, and a loving heart is a hospice to the world.
This silence is not the exclusive prerogative of monasteries and convents. This simple, prayerful silence can and should be everybody’s silence. It belongs to every Christian who loves God, to every Jew who has heard in his heart the echoes of God’s voice in his prophets, to everyone whose soul has risen in search of truth, in search of God.
For where noise is—inward noise and confusion—there God is not!
Deserts, silence, solitudes are not necessarily places but states of mind and heart. These deserts can be found in the midst of the city and in the everyday of our lives. We need only to look for them.
They will be small solitudes, little deserts, tiny pools of silence, but the experience they will bring, if we are disposed to enter them, may be as exultant and as holy as the one God himself entered. For it is God who makes solitude, deserts, and silences holy.
Consider the solitude of walking from the subway train or bus to your home in the evening, when the streets are quieter and there are few passersby.
Or consider the solitude of a car in which you are returning from work, riding bumper to bumper on a crowded highway.
This too can be a "point of departure" to a desert, silence, solitude.
And consider the solitude that greets you when you enter your room to change your office or working clothes to more comfortable, homey ones.
Consider the solitude of a housewife, alone in her kitchen, sitting down for a cup of coffee before beginning the work of the day. Think of the solitudes afforded by such humble tasks as housecleaning, ironing, sewing.
But we’re blind to the "little solitudes" that fill our days. These "little solitudes" are often right behind a door which we can open, or in a little corner where we can stop to look at a tree that somehow survived the snow and dust of a city street.
Our hearts, minds, and souls must be attuned, desirous, aware of these moments of solitude that God gives us.
God laughs at time, for if our souls are open to him and available to him, he can invite them in, change them, lift them, transform them, in one instant.
He can say to someone driving that car bumper to bumper, I will lead you into solitude and there I shall speak to your heart (Hos 2:14).
There is no solitude without silence. True, silence is sometimes the absence of speech—but it is always the act of listening. The mere absence of noise (which is empty of our listening to the voice of God) is not silence.
Yet a day filled with noise and voices can be a day of silence, if the noises become for us the echo of the presence of God, if the voices are, for us, messages and solicitations of God.
Deserts, silence, solitude. For a soul that realizes the tremendous need of these three, opportunities present themselves in the midst of the congested trappings of all the world’s immense cities.
But how, really, can one achieve such solitude? By standing still. Stand still, and allow the deadly restlessness of our tragic age to fall away like the worn-out, dusty cloak that it is.
That restlessness was once considered the magic carpet to tomorrow, but now we see it for what it really is: a running away from oneself, a turning from the journey inward that all men must undertake to meet God dwelling within the depths of their souls.
Stand still, and look deep into the motivations of life. Are they such that true foundations of sanctity can be built on them?
For truly man has been born to become a saint—a lover of Love who died for us. There is but one tragedy: not to be a saint. If these motivations of life are not such that they can be true foundations for sanctity, then each person must start all over again and find other motivations.
It can be done. It must be done. It is never too late to begin again.
Stand still, and lifting your heart and hands to God, pray that the mighty wind of his Holy Spirit may clear all the cobwebs of fears, selfishness, greed, and narrow–heartedness away from your soul. Pray that his tongues of flame may descend to give you courage to begin again.
All this standing still can be done in the midst of the outward noise of daily living and the duties of state in life. For it will bring order into the soul, God’s order, and God’s order will bring tranquility, his own tranquility. And it will bring silence.
It will bring the silence of a lover, listening with all his being to the heartbeats of his beloved. The silence of a bride, who in utter joy listens to her heart re-echoing every word of the beloved.
The silence of a mother, so deep and inward that in it she listens with her whole being to the voice of her children playing in a nearby yard, cognizant without effort of the slightest change in each voice. Hers is a listening silence, which takes place while she competently, efficiently, and lovingly attends to her daily duties.
This silence will come and take possession of lover, mother, worker, nurse, apostle, priest, nun—if only the face of their soul, in the midst of their daily occupations, is turned to God.
At first such silences will be few and far between. But if nourished with a life of liturgical prayer, mental prayer, and the sacramental life of the Church, slowly, like the seedling of a mighty tree, silence will grow.
It will come to dwell in a soul more and more often until one day it will come to stay.
Slowly, imperceptibly, the world roundabout them will change. For the silence within them will become part of God’s loving, mighty, creative, fruitful silence. His voice will be heard through them. His face will be seen in theirs. And the light of it will become a light to their neighbor’s feet.
Thus silence will bring peace to all. The prayer of silence will be heard in our land, far and wide. And the Beloved will once more come to dwell among men, for his vineyard—the world—will be restored to him. Yes, be still, and know that I am God (Ps 46:10).
Accept, first, the solitude of your own heart. Prayer, like silence, is a matter of a journey inward, as are all pilgrimages of the Spirit. I must journey inward to meet the Triune God who dwells within me.
It is vitally important at the outset to emphasize that there is no need for a log cabin, cottage, or hut in order to lead a life of prayer. Prayer is interior. The hut, the log cabin, the chapel is the human heart in which we must learn how to pray.
Solitude sometimes helps prayer, and for special vocations is the cradle of prayer, and powerful prayer at that. But for the average Christian, prayer doesn’t need a geographic spot.
Prayer is a contact of love between God and man. Married people don’t need a bedroom to make love. One can make love anyplace, and "making love" does not necessarily mean what people think it means.
Making love can mean looking into each other’s eyes. It can mean holding hands tightly. It means being aware of each other in the midst of a crowd. So it is with prayer. In the intense stillness of a loving heart, all of a person strains toward the beloved, and words—simple, gentle, tender—come forth, audible or inaudible as the case may be.
Yet it is good to have periodic solitude. But this "solitude" requires only a small place. It can be a room in a large convent or monastery. It can be a place in the attic or the basement of a family home.
It may be a part of a room, separated by curtains. The daily noises of the street, of the family, of the staff of convents and monasteries would form a gentle reminder that we never pray alone, and never for ourselves alone.
Prayer is a full–time affair; solitude, unless one is called to a lifetime of it by God, must always be a temporary thing.
— Excerpted from Poustinia, pp. 28-36, available from MH Publications.
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