27 September 2010

Followup on the Silence of Solitude (#5)

[[Sister, so are you saying that eremitical silence and solitude are different than ordinary silence and solitude?]]

Yes, and that's a great way of putting the matter. I would add that eremitical silence and solitude are more vital, a more living and communal reality than mere external silence and solitude because they are linked to the silence of solitude. When we go on retreat, for instance, we may enjoy the physical silence of the place, and we may enjoy being free of ordinary cares, worries, family members and responsibilities, etc. But no, these are not the same as eremitical silence or solitude, and even less are they the same as "the silence of solitude" though they contribute to these things.

The difference, which I will try to describe in a moment, was brought home to me by this year's retreat at the Cistercian (Trappistine) Monastery of the Redwoods (just as another piece was brought home to me last Summer by an incident on retreat!). It is the difference between absence (the absence of sound, of others, of external distractions, etc) and presence. The monastery is in the boonies, a 45 minute drive from the main turn off which itself is miles from real urban centers. As the name suggests it is in the middle of redwood forests but also pasture land and farms. It is quiet and physical or external silence reigns. But there is another dimension here, and that is the silence of solitude. It is the living, loving silence of people living (mainly silently) in communion with God and with (or at least in support of) each other.

Thus, at meditation (silent or contemplative prayer), when 20 people are sitting silently for an hour*, something new comes to be, something larger and more vital than even the silence of the forest and grounds. It is a silence one can feel, a kind of awesome presence which is palpable, compelling, and which sings with the prayer and love of each person (and all of them together in God). Because this is the REAL and most profound silence of this monastery one finds that even when external noise occurs it needs not necessarily distract from this deeper silence of solitude. Of course, the silence of the forest, monastery, and guesthouse needs to be maintained or people may never be able to reach this other level of silence (in fact, this other reality), but external silence and aloneness is only a prerequisite to this "silence OF solitude".

Does this help further?

* Actually meditation included a period of sitting, one shorter period of walking, and another of sitting, but some sat the whole hour.