Who Knew Being Silent With Monks Could Be So Liberating?

I watched Of Gods and Males on a winter’s afternoon in Norfolk as a result of a fantastic Dominican friar and priest, named Timothy Radcliffe, informed me that it contained the reply to my questions on fact and silence. In Radcliffe’s ebook, Alive in God: A Christian Creativeness, he asks if we have now misplaced the sense of the transcendent. For all our connectivity and knowledge, we discover it exhausting to understand that means.

The motto of the Dominican order is Veritas (fact). The thirteenth-century Dominican friar, Saint Thomas Aquinas, drew upon pagan philosophers and Islamic educating as sources of fact. He believed in a group of fact: that fact is magnificence and wonder is fact.

After I requested Timothy Radcliffe, in his research piled with books, if he had discovered fact, he informed me: “I consider there are truths however I don’t know what they imply. I consider that God is nice, however what does that imply?”

This appears to me the enchantment of the cloisters at Sénanque. You possibly can expertise silence and fact even should you can not rationalize or clarify it. And I believe I acknowledge within the monks what Radcliffe calls “the intimacy of silence with fellow brethren.” The loneliness of the monks’ lives shouldn’t be loneliness in any respect. And their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience will not be confining however liberating.

One of many monks, a tall man with a clean Roman head and deep-set eyes, strikes to face in entrance of the altar, ramrod-straight for about twenty minutes. One other kneels.

Then the senior frère returns, assuming an outer gown of ceremonial white and a hood. He strikes to a lamp-lit embellished ark with a spire and a cross. He takes out a small object product of gold and glass, holds it up, and locations it on the altar. It shines like a mirror.

The monks and the pilgrims take a look at it; we’re fully nonetheless and the chapel is silent. Early-evening mild pours by way of the stone window nearest to the altar. The tiniest rustle feels vexatious. This can be a silence that floods by way of you want oxygen. It’s what peace seems like.


After greater than half an hour of stillness, the monks transfer as if out of a trance. I begin. It’s as if statues have come to life. I cross myself and drop a knee, which has turn into a behavior. Then immediately brisk, we make our manner out of the chapel. I understand my vocal chords have gotten rusty with lack of use and I’ve began to look upward to keep away from eye contact.

So when the Frère Hôtelier approaches me on the door of the refectory and asks me in English if I’m nicely, I’m stunned and happy. Is that this a form of religious completely happy hour once we can alternate the pleasantries and banalities that I’m used to outdoors the abbey?

He smiles gently and says he want to ask one thing of me. Would I keep to the tip of the meal this time fairly than leaving the desk as soon as I’ve completed consuming?

“We’re a gaggle,” he says. “It’s extra convivial.”

I had misinterpret the group of silence. I believed that silence was the absence of a relationship, however the truth is it was the alternative. I sit resolutely by way of a supper consisting of an avocado, a tomato, a leaf of lettuce, and closely boiled zucchini and carrots, accompanied by piped music from “Greensleeves.” Somebody pushes again their chair, however it is just to fetch bread for the tables. We await the final individual within the room to complete their ultimate carrot. I notice it however am cautious to not react. After which everybody rises as one and assumes a line into the kitchen, the place plates are handed from one individual to the following to be washed and dried. Think about a household Christmas day of washing up. However all finished in silence.

I return to my room and understand with pleasure that it is just fifteen minutes to night prayers, known as complies. The night solar illuminates the east cloister—it creates white tombs of sunshine throughout the flagstones. I relaxation by a stone pillar, trying throughout the backyard sq., up on the darkening stone of the chapel and the night sky above it. It resembles ink on papyrus, shades of violet blue and dove grey on muslin weave. Swifts over the abbey are the one creatures that transfer on this quiet night.

I slip into the again of the chapel, bow, cross myself, and sit on my oak bench. The monks take their locations on the altar pews. Since I can not comply with carefully the language or the liturgy I’m content material to soak up the Gregorian chants and much more the silences in between. The service is historical, critical, penitent. There aren’t any platitudes right here, no topicality.

I’m used to the megaphone of present affairs and the jumpiness of a pandemic. Right here, these rumbling bass voices mingling with the tenors produce concord each historical and current. It’s the sound of eternity. The monks are sufficiently old to concern the results of COVID however what ought to they concern, when they’re poised between two worlds?

On the finish of the service, the snow-bearded monk holds up a leafy department and gently waves it above the heads of the opposite monks and, as he walks down the aisle, the heads of our little congregation of holiday makers.

The lights of the chapel are switched off, however as soon as once more I’m rooted to my bench. I, who’ve by no means been capable of sit by way of conferences and have an incredibly brief focus span, need nothing greater than this. Sitting in shadows and stillness, a limestone wall, and the wood picture of the cross. Simplicity and silence.

My bed room has additionally turn into expensive to me. There’s a breeze by way of the lengthy open window and I look out on the wooded hillside and the stone. I’ve by no means recognized such concentrated stillness. I lookup at Venus after which bow my head, the gesture that has already turn into pure.

And the exhausting, slender mattress beckons an unbroken sleep. For sooner or later not less than, the sleep of the harmless.

The bell within the tower sounds at 4:15 a.m. for vigiles. I ponder if I can sleep by way of it. Absolutely I can miss one each day service out of seven?

However each is subtly completely different as a result of they’re fastened to the holy calendar. I slip on a costume, brush my enamel, and comb my hair. This all feels odd because it was not that way back that I used to be taking off my costume and brushing my enamel for mattress. This isn’t evening, nor day. It seems like a hearth alarm, or a flight.

Within the darkness, I really feel my manner down the steps, then alongside the acquainted route, previous two wood doorways, into the cloister and towards the chapel. There are solely 4 monks and solely three within the congregation. Even the monks yawn a little bit and wipe their glasses.

But the primary sung notice brings focus and with it gladness. The predawn hours of a information program are espresso and adrenaline. Right here they’re contemplation. The shortage of espresso and certainly of alcohol the evening earlier than already brings a quietness of thoughts. The shortage of sleep encourages a religious alertness. I’ve by no means felt this equilibrium earlier than. Attentive and but nonetheless.

The service finishes at about 5:30 a.m. and I ponder about going again to mattress. However daybreak is rising and the rocks and woodland have gotten three-dimensional. I take the Saint Bernard route up the stony path I adopted yesterday, and on the prime of the hilly ridge, I watch the solar come up. A single cloud within the form of a chariot is lit orange and yellow.

Under me, I see mild curling throughout the slate roof of the monastery.

I make my manner down the trail and up the empty highway on the opposite aspect, which can quickly be stuffed with vacationers. I need to see the lavender fields, lit by morning solar. On the fringe of a lavender discipline, I watch a black-and-navy butterfly, noticed with white, on sunlit oak leaves. Solitude turns into one with nature. I sit on a stone by a tree cloaked in lichen, and assume the pose of the chapel. Head bowed, fingers collectively, fully nonetheless. | Who Knew Being Silent With Monks Might Be So Liberating?


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