Posted February 03, 2012:
Beginnings of Poustinia

by Catherine Doherty.

The river flows around me, silently, waiting for something to happen, listening for someone to come. Silence surrounds me on all sides and leads me to meditate.

Strangely enough, this silence brings to mind the roar of traffic. The constant noises of the city surround me. The constant ringing of telephones, the swish of elevators, the unending sound of steps outside office doors, voices that never cease, the muted rumbling of buses, subways and cars.

Whenever I come back to my island from whatever work I do on the mainland, I begin to savor the utter quiet of eventide, and I find myself in the city, the city that never sleeps, the city where I learned to sleep in spite of all the noises. It is then that I begin to pray for all humanity.

It seems that very soon now the center of all our lives (with the exception of a few) will be urban centers, cities that extend solidly from one city to another, eating up all the green land in between.

Where then will modern man find the silence, the solitude that he must have, and without which he will not be able to survive the rat race of his urban living? Yes, where?

If we are to engage in dialogue with one another, with members of other faiths, with members of our own families and communities, we must learn to listen. For there will be no real dialogue without listening.

But in order to be able to listen, one must have time for silence and solitude. The listening required is the listening of the heart, a heart that is utterly open to the Holy Spirit. It is in him alone that we can communicate and dialogue with one another.

It was in the silence of my island that I suddenly understood why, quite a few years ago, we of Madonna House transformed an abandoned farmhouse into a hermitage, a desert, or, as the Russians say, a poustinia.

I remember well why this idea came to me. It came because I realized that the members of our apostolate of Madonna House, being deeply inserted into the secular society, had to have a place into which they could retire to be alone in solitude and silence.

First, they had to stem the noise within themselves. There is not a modern man or woman living who, in our tense society, is not filled, in one way or another, with that inner noise, a sort of fragmentation of oneself.

When I first proposed this idea of the poustinia, a place where someone could spend 24 hours in silence, solitude and fasting, everyone was agreeable. They were also a little astonished, and a bit bewildered.

After a few personal experiences in the poustinia, they began to understand. To date, we have about fifteen of these simple, poor, humble log cabins to which people can go.

This inspiration of the Holy Spirit has been confirmed by the extent to which the poustinia experience has caught on among so many thousands of people.

Many people throughout the world, as a result of reading my book, Poustinia, now spend time occasionally in solitude, on a "poustinia day."

We here at Madonna House can only marvel at God’s work and praise him that this idea and practice is bearing so much fruit.

Adapted from Welcome Pilgrim, (1991), pp. 31-33, out of print



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