The reason that The Abbey is largely cloaked in silence is because that is the environment most conducive to the Benedictine call to ‘listen to the ear of your heart’. The nuns dedication to a life of constant prayer necessitates a quiet serenity.
I thought women were supposed to be good multi-taskers but clearly not.
Obviously the ability to engage in a truly productive silence is far more finely honed in the women who live there; those of us who lob in for a brief moment then go back to the franticness of our lives miss something in the translation. The depths that are necessary for a truly transformational experience can’t be reached in a weekend. I imagine that spending time in true contemplative silence is like descending to the depths of the ocean; it must be done slowly and in a considered manner (or your head explodes). Obviously, given that I am the World’s Crappest Prayer, talking to God for the entire time was going to be a bit too much for me. I found the first evening quite hard, being away from the four people I love, with none of the coping mechanisms that I usually have when dealing with existentialist bleakness (that would be Cointreau and The West Wing, by the way).
But once I had made peace with the fact that there were no conversations or radio or distractions in general, the thing that I found notable about existing largely in silence was the fact that I didn’t have to concentrate on other people. Removing the “meeting new people and being socially ‘on’ for the weekend” factor was enormously relieving and meant that the inner dialogue about what I said, how I had said it and how I am perceived was gone. This meant that a whole layer of mental subterfuge was stripped away immediately. What’s left when you can’t worry about what other people think about you or watch television or argue with your spouse? Well actual quality thoughts, one would hope.
The first thing that I realised? That I am so lazy and entitled and my life is so completely blessed that its next to impossible to see where God is moving in it. When essentially everything that happens to you is good and fulfilling and you have all of your material needs met, then it makes sense that it would be a struggle to identify God in the everyday. Is it possible to be so spoilt that you lose sight of, or fail to see God at all? Is this why those of us in the developed world are becoming so secular and fractured from our spiritual selves?
When reading ‘God’s Smuggler’ (it’s on Kindle if you’re interested) there was story after story of people obtaining a Bible, for example, that seemed to be such an improbable culmination of coincidences that it was easy for them to say ‘This is God moving in my life’. When I read stories that describe amazing experiences that people have; really ‘boom’ obvious God moments, I get irritated that these things don’t happen to me. If something incredible happened then it would make it so much easier to believe! I say.
But then I realise that half the time I wouldn’t notice if something amazing happened. If an improbably gift arrived, for example, would I notice it in between the books from amazon and the shoes from Ozsale and the makeup from Ebay that arrive at my house so regularly?. I wouldn’t notice if God tried to get my attention by creating a mini-miracle.
Of course I’ve always railed against the idea of a God that gives us ‘stuff’, a God that endorses stupid-big mega churches and $5000 hand bags and prayers for a flasher car. But that is from my developed-world privileged perspective. Who am I to question whether God moves in these ways amongst those who have little?. If God knows me at all then she wouldn’t try to get my attention or respect or whatever by sending me a bejewelled Bible (there aren’t enough WTFs in the world for that thing).
I guess in my case, God would have to get my attention by planting an irrational desire to seek the holy and transcendent like a dog with a bone for years (oh, hang on…).
(The next post is the deep one, I promise.)