It unties us with Christ in spirit and in heart enabling us to live the Paschal
Silence, being an essential value of monastic life, liberates the soul, and always
brings with it the call of the desert to solitude and peace.
It opens a person to the depths of the mystery of God and to
intimacy with Him.
Redemptoristine Rule - 6.45,46
The other day I enjoyed a quiet blissful almost entire morning of silence. I went early to our large sewing room furnished with many sewing machines, cutting tables, and racks for hanging completed capes for the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre or habits for Redemptorist priests and brothers. It is a bright room with large windows that allow for a view of the river valley, the vagaries of the weather or the deer and Canadian geese that wander by. Some times this room is very noisy, humming with the sound of a few workhorses of the sewing business vying with each other for mastery and maybe the click clack of a typewriter (yes, we still have one). Most days I share the room with another sister or two or three and so there may be conversation about the work we are doing or a brief exchange about community business or a personal concern. But most of the time conversation is minimal as we try, within humane limits, to maintain those primary values of contemplative monastic life - silence and recollection.
It seems that this business about maintaining silence remains part of the 'mystique' with which lay people regard our life. I am currently reading a delightful pictorial history of the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani, Kentucky, the community to which Thomas Merton belonged. The author speaks of this fascination and how newspaper readers delighted over one hundred years ago to read of a visit of outsiders into the enclosure (the governor and his wife, no less) and the nature of the spoken words issuing forth from the long silent lips of the monks. It also seems that extended periods of silence are looked upon as a particularly difficult penance. But the other morning, when I started my sewing early, when the sunlight was streaming through the windows and no one came to disturb me, that morning was glorious.
This reaction would not have been the case just a few years ago. Over the years of raising three sons in a small house, as their bodies and circles of friends expanded, I found myself gravitating more and more to my bedroom. It was a place to go when I had enough of the activity and all of us needed our own space. Gradually the room became a technology center too. There was the telephone, of course, T.V., VCR, radio/tape/cd player, eventually a computer and, but of course, my sewing machine. My feet did not hit the floor in the morning without one, maybe two, of those devices being turned on beginning the endless stream of input with which I kept daily rhythm. And it just went on from there. This must all sound very familiar. It was part of my facility with multi-tasking, at which success is a boon to motherhood combined with the world of work.
I would not have entered the monastery in the year 2000 if I had not already begun to cultivate the ability to turn it all off. I began a few years before by avoiding all information technology in the morning. Even the twenty-minute drive to school became meditation time. But the commitment to contemplative life upped the ante. Shortly after I entered I was posted to the sewing room. I arrived one morning with cassette tape player on my hip and headset in place. Later, I was privately encourage by my formator (read as novice mistress), that I should not come to work so armed. Rather the goal was to allow the silence to do its work, to bring me to a place, some moments, of recollection. Now that may have an arcane ring to it. What exactly is recollection? It is a posture, a way of being, that speaks of openness, of availability to God, to His grace and to the inspiration of the Spirit. It is a contemplative stance in a hectic, distracting world.
Prayer is not a one way street. Seems to me the old catechism said (the new one too) that prayer is a conversation with God in which both talking and listening takes place. Recollection is that contemplative way of being which allows for the listening part.
During that special morning I was putting very exacting finishing touches on a habit destined for a Redemptorist priest I know. Years ago, the same sister who advised mental silence in the sewing room, shared that she enjoyed this work for the Redemptorists. It was a contribution to their varied ministries, a support for them in addition to our prayers. She even suggested when a habit proved to be a difficult one, calling for much ripping and adjusting, "He must really need your prayers and effort." So that morning I prayed for the priest who would receive that habit and felt privileged to be able to provide, at least in part, this sign of his commitment to Jesus our Redeemer and to serving the poor and most abandoned.
The problems of our world call out to us for a more conscious awareness of ourselves, our lives, the choices we make and our relationship with all other people, all other creatures and the environment which sustains us. I have found that I cannot live more consciously, cannot hear God speaking directly His words of love for me and for the world, unless I purposefully cultivate opportunities to enter into silence and recollection, prerequisites to contemplative prayer. I eagerly await another quiet morning in the sewing room.