7:02am: I have just had two hours of silence – in and out of dozing – not achieving anything, not even trying…aware of God’s presence and my “being here,” watching my thoughts come and go and not trying for anything. The world is waking up around me now – cars going by…impetus for moving. I wonder what effect these hours will have on my day: such a rare (non-)happening! Non-action feels so full. What can be learned from such a practice? I hope to learn…
As we move into this week that we call “Holy” I have no words of my own so I search Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours for a message leading to silence. I feel that is the way to go in this week as much as possible, giving God the chance to speak. Here is Merton’s prayer:
Keep me, above all things, from sin. But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart in the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love for You alone. (p. 55)
Sometimes it’s hard to think about what to write in the morning but some days are full of promise and offer many things to consider. Today I am faced with a plethora of options (not the least of which is the opportunity to use the interesting word “plethora.”)
- One of the websites I see in my email every day is optimize.me, written by the brilliant Brian Johnson. Today he used the first quote he ever memorized, which happens to be the first quote that I ever memorized as well! Of course, I have to share it with you. (Because it’s Shakespeare, I will leave it in the original, exclusive male language.) He says: This above all, to thine own self be true. And it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. We can use a little advice like that these days.
- Today Christians in many lands celebrate the great scholar/saint Thomas Aquinas whose writings are studied by theologians and students the world over even today – eight centuries after his death. It is said, however, that at the end of his life in 1274, Thomas had a mystical vision that caused him to stop writing and enter into silence. When he was asked to continue his writing, he answered, “I cannot, for everything I have written seems to me like straw.” It seems that he was overcome with a love that could not be described in any human language. We would do well sometimes to consider the value of silence as an approach to God.
- In the devotional pamphlet Living Faith, I found this prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas that seems appropriate for today. Perhaps you may claim it as your own: Grant me, O Lord, my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.
Much to contemplate in celebration of this great Saint!
One of the most commonly recognized stories in the Hebrew Scriptures appears as today’s first lectionary reading. (1SM 3) It’s the story of the boy Samuel in his first days in the temple when “he was not yet familiar with the Lord.” It could actually be presented as a comedy in a religion class with Samuel getting out of bed and running to Eli saying, “You called me!” and Eli responding: “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed!” By the third time this happens, Eli the prophet catches on that God is calling the boy, so he instructs Samuel to answer, saying,”Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Many of us long for such a clear message from God, and to be able to recognize it when it comes. Some of us have wise people who help us interpret messages when we don’t recognize the voice of God. To be fair, we can’t always count on such a “direct address” as we find in today’s reading. How have you heard God speaking in your life? Do you allow at least a modicum of silence in your days so that you might hear a message? Are you open to new ways of hearing, new sources of wisdom? Have you any prompts in your environment? A candle perhaps, or music? Or perhaps an icon, a favorite picture of Jesus? There are many ways of preparation to hear the voice of God. And always, an open heart can echo this morning’s responsorial psalm, saying: “Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will!” If you put yourself in the place of most opportunity (openness) and make it a habit to call to God, you might be surprised someday to hear God’s voice in answer!
I was led this morning to Psalm 62 by an e-mail from a friend. It speaks to the state of mind where I choose to place my hope these days.
Alone my soul awaits you in the silence, Lord; by you and only you am I restored. You are for me my solid ground, foundation firm on which I stand…for you are my whole hope and prayer. You only are my saving rock, a stronghold safe, unshaken, sure, my safety, honor and my refuge firm...(Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.154)
For additional reflection, if you prefer music, visit John Foley of the Saint Louis Jesuits at YouTube for the song Only In God.
Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up hardly able to move with everything you need to accomplish by day’s end? How to decide where to start? And then you grab a cup of coffee and sit down to figure it out…and suddenly the sun blasts out from behind the clouds .and you look down at the book you have just pulled off your shelf and Thomas Merton says:
Here I am. In me the world is present, and you are present. I am a link in a chain of light and presence. You have made me a kind of center but a center that is nowhere. And yet also I am “here.” To be here with the silence of Sonship in my heart is to be a center in which all things converge upon you. That is surely enough for the time being. (A Book of Hours, p.47-48)
And so it is.
Unlike most of those holy people we call saints, the influence of Benedict (c. 480 – c.547), whom we celebrate today, has been constant in the Western world of monasticism for over 1500 years. In fact, Benedict’s influence in the wider world of spirituality is now likely more expansive than ever before. Groups are forming and calling themselves “monasteries without walls,” living life “in the world” while following the tenets of the Benedictine rule. People are in search of a model for living that calls to mindfulness and a balanced way of being that fits into “real life” – not necessarily hidden away in a monastery. They are finding such a way with Benedict.
Twenty years ago Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister wrote a book entitled, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. It is a simple, straightforward work on how to live every day mindfully with examples of how to balance work and rest, community and silence, and much more… examples that can relate to all of us. Sister Joan has a paragraph that sums it up quite well and is easily explicable, I think, to anyone who desires a closer relationship to God while living in any lifestyle today.
And so Benedict calls all of us to mindfulness. No life is to be so busy that there is no time to take stock of it. No day is to be so full of business that the gospel dare not intrude. No schedule is to be so tight that there is no room for reflection on whether what is being done is worth doing at all. No work should be so all-consuming that nothing else can ever get in: not my husband, not my wife, not my hobbies, not my friends, not nature, not reading, not prayer. How shall we ever put on the mind of Christ if we never take time to determine what the mind of Christ was then and is now, for me? (p. 105)
There are so many people and organizations giving advice daily on television, podcasts and all manner of “advice columns.” I sometimes feel a need to add my voice from my tiny corner of the world but often lately I sense more of a need to just sit quietly and let the silence speak. Nature seems complicit in this feeling this morning and gives me a nudge saying, “Yes, that’s it. Any thoughts you have are unnecessary today. Just listen. That’s what “sabbath” is all about.”
I can be confident in that feeling because here’s what has happened in less than the last hour. Knowing that I had a late start to the morning because of a late start to sleeping last night, I got my coffee and began my sojourn through my regular prompts—Scripture, USCCB notations, Franciscan media, the SSJE Brothers… and had trouble accessing the above mentioned pages or staying on the page when it finally showed up. As I surfed I realized it was getting darker outside and I still had nothing to offer. Suddenly there was a great, yet silent, cloudburst washing the trees with no wind, just a steady, torrential downpour that gave way to a sparkling sunshine and birdsong within minutes of the rain’s conclusion.
Why would I think I need to add to that happening? The silence fills the world with Sabbath beauty and stillness is God’s gift to my soul. May you be similarly blessed with the simple necessity of breathing into the day: in and out…in and out…no distress…only breath…in and out…in and out.
There are a lot of people who have chosen a specific quote that expresses something important to them, something that they want to say to all the people with whom they share e-mail. I’m always interested to read these brief messages that conclude their e-mails to see if I think they fit the person behind the quote. Last week one of my Sisters of St. Joseph treated me to a quote of Thomas Merton that was characteristic of him but one I had never heard before. I might have claimed it for myself if I were called to choose it from the many great lines that run through my brain on any given day. I don’t know if I could ever settle on one choice to the exclusion of all others but this one is certainly a contender.
Do you have a favorite? This one came from Sister Linda Neil, CSJ, and I could say I value its message more and more each day. Thanks to Lin!
Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer, where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.
We had tornado warnings last evening but only got torrential rains that seem to have washed away layers of distress and moved us finally into a glorious taste of spring. I thank God for windows this morning! The first blast of beauty that met me was the flowering cherry tree in the west corner that was glorious seen from above (the second floor). Downstairs there was a congregation of colorful birds on the newly washed deck – more variety than we have ever had! In addition to the ever-present yellow of the finches we have a second appearance of Baltimore orioles and, for the first time, a contingent of rose-breasted grosbeaks. They all know where the party is and it is a delight to watch them as they find breakfast, dancing and singing this early in the day to give me courage.
I sit here in the sun, feeling the gentleness of the breeze and imaging Thomas Merton on the tiny porch of his hermitage on mornings just like this one. The leaves on the trees still sparkle with the remnants of the rain as I turn to his words for a way to express praise of this wonderland of creation.
The most wonderful moment of the day is that when creation in its innocence asks permission to “be” once again, as it did on the first morning that ever was…There are drops of dew that show like sapphires in the grass as soon as the morning sun appears, and leaves stir behind the hushed flight of an escaping dove…Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you…The distant blue hills praise you, together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light…I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers, and they give voice to my own heart and to my own silence. We are all one silence, and a diversity of voices…Here I am. In me the world is present, and you are present. I am a link in the chain of light and of presence…(Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours)