I read an interesting article in "Franciscan Way" (Franciscan University of Steubenville) in the Summer 2009 issue on page 32, entitled "Seeking God in the Silence" by Dr. Regis Martin. Such articles have always drawn me as my 5 years as a monk was experienced partly in silence. The order fell apart, and I have been a member of the laity (Franciscan) since 2002. There is way too much unwanted noise in my life.
The noise we experience on a daily basis consists of many things. There is television which brings unwanted noise into the home, except that we have control over that media - we can turn it off, as I so often do. Then there is road noise, which we cannot turn off but we learn to live with. When the wind is from a certain direction, there is also railroad noise, the train whistle and the noise of the wheels passing the stretch-gaps in the rails. These gaps are necessary to prevent cracked rails from overheating as a huge train passes over it. This is a freight line (for now), and the freights that come through town seem endless.
The article in question, shows a picture of a monk sitting or standing on a path between two leaf and snow-covered lawns and the implication is there of silence. A monastery garden or front yard is often a place of silence. In fact, my place of silence which I sought often, was a large tract of forest which belonged to a university, and apart from birds and other critters there was total silence. The bird and other animals - that's good noise. That's acceptable while one seeks to hear the voice of the Lord.
Where can one find silence in every day living in a small city. Is it even possible? In order to have silence, several conditions must be kept in mind. And, by the way, these words are my own, inspired by the Holy Spirit, no doubt, these are not the words of the aforementioned article although it also seeks to hear the voice of the Lord. In fact, the article mentions one of my favorite places, the Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky which is a major Trappist monastic center. It is not that I have been there so often, in fact just once, as I recall. But it is an ideal place to find silence. That's because one can walk out into the fields and be alone with the Lord. When I was there in January 1997, it was bone cold... between 0 and 5 degrees (F.) and the silence I felt there had a dimension of great loneliness, until I found God's voice within me. Then I forgot all about the cold and the freezing wind.
Most of the time, we do not have the luxury of a very quiet place. Certainly in our inner room (ref. Mt. 6:6) we are alone with Jesus. For most of us, it is a bedroom, or a closet, or a seat by the sea, or seated in a big grassy area outdoors someplace. The main thing is that we are alone with our thoughts, and of course one hopes that these thoughts are thoughts of prayer and reflection. We are away from family, pals, from anything or anyone that can become a point of disturbance in our reverie with God.
It is hard to escape the din of life. Blaring radios, usually with music we do not care for, people in the media, who go on and on, ad infinitum, with empty discussions (politicians are good at that also), sexual inuendo that seems so much part of today's public conversation turn me off completely. The endless inane commercials of products I have little or no interest in, because I cannot afford them even if I had a need for them! And it goes on, and on.
And then, periodically, we do have a period of silence, and we're so out of practice that we do not know how to handle that fine time. We get fidgety, restless, look around in curiosity when a door opens behind us... yes, I mean in church as one sits in front of the Tabernacle ... then two people begin a conversation, whispered, that can be heard all over the church, because the church is empty and as such their sounds resonate. It is so hard to keep one's attention completely on the Lord.
Let me tell you something, when I had all the silence I wanted and then some, I was still fidgety, but now I know why - it was the start of my Parkinson's Disease. And now I fidget even more. Please, Lord, let me experience you in true silence!
Let me find that quiet place. A small chapel perhaps (one comes to mind), or a seat along the ocean no one is using right now. Silence is also broken by what one sees. If one wishes to listen to God's voice, we need our total attention - a public beach is usually too distracting. Sitting at my computer, typing these words, isn't so bad because there is silence here, and the Lord is present. He is present in our thoughts, on the crucifix that hangs in the room, in religious images on the wall, and in pictures of friends with happy faces. One thing often seen in monasteries and convents are people who have an expression of joy on their faces, even without attempting to smile. Lord, I pray that whomever I am talking to, face-to-face, will see the joy you give me every day. As Catholics we have the obligation to "E-v-a-n-g-e-l-i-s-e" - to tell others what we have learned about the Lord, and the Good News He has given to all of us. May I share my joy with you? As I continue to seek God, may I boast about Him to all of you? He is a God who transcends gender and time, who IS, WAS, and forever WILL BE. He loves all of us with great generosity and when you have a problem, He is always there to help you. Turn to Him, and confide in Him, and when you do this often enough, you will hear His voice even if you cannot find silence. But do seek silence and you will find it, as you will find Him!
Peace and all Good!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
October 19, 2010