My husband and I have been running together these summer mornings, through the trails of a nearby nature reserve. With the fresh dew still glistening on the grass, our running shoes tread along the paths as our senses are filled with the glory and splendor of creation welcoming a new day.
Oftentimes, we round a corner of this lush landscape to find wild turkeys frolicking, rabbits darting into the tall grass, frogs happily jumping along or a turtle slowly making his way across the path.
After telling our 3-year-old of the numerous animals we spot on our morning runs, he was no longer content to stay and play while we went out. He wanted to come; he too wanted to delight in creation.
With expectations high, he set out with us the next morning. But, you guessed it: Not an animal is spotted when a running stroller cruises along the path and an endless stream of 3-year-old commentary fills the air. Obviously, there are some things, such as spotting animals, best accomplished in an atmosphere of quietude.
The same can be said in our spiritual life and search for God.
When someone deliberately enters an atmosphere of silence, are not other aspects of this person more open to perceive and experience? Discernment becomes clearer when pondered in the stillness of the heart. Complexities of difficult decisions take on a new light when the mind is at peace. A glimmer of hope can be glimpsed in helpless situations in the hush of the spirit.
In 1 Kings 19:11-13, God was not present in the wind, earthquake or fire around the prophet Elijah. He could instead be found in a “gentle whisper.” Most Christians can affirm that it is not always the most powerful, dramatic or magnificent occurrences in our lives where God is felt. Oftentimes, the little things or moments prove to be the most fruitful. Modern society affirms this attitude when vacations are billed as a time to “get away from it all.”
In Minnesota, the popular summer destination is a cabin up north. At these lake destinations, modern conveniences are minimal, and the natural beauty and quiet of the great outdoors exalt the spirit.
Some monastic orders of the Catholic Church take vows of silence as part of their ascetic life. The Carthusian monks, founded by St. Bruno, are inspired by his vision of seeking God through solitude or “Great Silence” on three levels: separation from the world, life in the cell, and inner solitude or “solitude of the heart.” In fact, to this day, the monks are only allowed to speak for a limited time on Sundays and special feasts. Furthermore, several priests and sisters I know have a yearly commitment of making a weekend silent retreat for spiritual encouragement and strength in vocational demands. Lay silent retreats are also popular around the world. For, as Blessed Mother Teresa said, “The fruit of silence is prayer.” And prayer is the powerhouse of the Christian life.
Indeed, the faithful around the globe are rediscovering the healing power of silence in the Lord. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of adoration available in parishes. In venues ranging from once a month, once a week or round-the-clock perpetual adoration, the faithful everywhere are constantly responding to the call to spend time in silence in front of the Eucharistic presence of Our Lord. This practice is positively changing people’s lives, families, vocations and parishes.
But many people ask, “how” and “why” is this occurring?
The lasting fruit of these moments of external silence is the ongoing “internal silence” which spills over into our daily routine; one is called to spiritual silence for renewal and strength in order to fully live out the vocational call in the world. Pope Benedict XVI addressed this topic on July 4, 2010: “Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God’s voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others.”
Robert Frost’s poem Birches beautifully portrays this balance of silence or solitude and active vocational service. The verses begin by describing errant braches of a birch tree; they “bend to left and right.” Frost then portrays the bowing limbs as the handiwork of boys joyfully mounting and riding the branches in a type of play. Deftly, these boys ride the branch just enough to bow but never break it. The poem relates: “He learned all there was, / To learn about not launching out too soon / And so not carrying the tree away, / Clear to the ground.”
This swinging of the branches can be likened to the spiritual life: A delicate balance between prayer and action, discernment and endeavor, is quintessential to Christian living. The second-to-last line of Birches affirms: “That would be good both going and coming back.” Both are good; both are needed.
Thus, while service is integral, the call to silence is not to be ignored either. These moments spent in quiet empower the faithful to hear the gentle whisper of God and to fully live their daily lives. Maybe we won’t see wildlife on each turn of the path, but if our disposition were one of “internal silence,” our eyes would be open and ready to see the unexpected gifts of God.
Niki Kalpakgian writes from Gaming, Austria.