Scripture: Psalm 62
"Why can't I buy a monk robe in the Abbey gift shop?" I confess I asked this question to myself just before the ringing of the bell to signify we stand for the beginning of the evening Vesper service at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. This is home to a Roman Catholic community of contemplative monks that belong to the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance. This question came into my mind despite being on a retreat at this Cistercian Monastery for 48 hours to this point. This question was the very antithesis of what I had been learning on my retreat. Living some of the contemplative way on our retreat included 4am Vigils (with a 30 minute silent mediation in the dark!), 7am Lauds & Mass Service, 12:15pm Midday Prayer service, 5:20 Vespers or Evening Prayer, and 7:30 Compline or Night service. That is not to mention the Great Silence from 8pm to 8am and that all our meals were to be in silence. In addition to this, the purpose of my retreat was to learn more about Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk himself (the monastery he was apart of in Kentucky, helped found this one) through lectures on his book New Seeds of Contemplation.
A small bit of wisdom from this retreat noted how we often attempt to use God for our purpose or imagine Christ in our image. Yet here I was, 48 hours in my experience, and still like a pilgrim at Disney World, I was desiring to purchase or consume that which has taken monks at least two years just to begin and a life that will never be complete. The words of the lecturer I had for the week puts my crazy question in proper perspective: one doesn't become a saint overnight. In fact, after decades of living a consumerist, rat-race lifestyle, even a few days in a monastery and hours of contemplation wouldn't be enough to radically change me. However, I could tell the seeds of contemplation were beginning and felt like water to parched land.
As Merton notes in the Preface of his book, the problem with the word contemplation is it "it sounds like 'something,'...a spiritual commodity that one can procure…[that if] possessed, liberates one from problems and from unhappiness." (xvi)
Rather than a possession or commodity or hobby, contemplation can provide a space for us to hear God and God to find us. "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation." Psalm 62:1, 5
How does silence make you feel?
How do you make a place for God to find you?
How might intentional times of silence be rewarding even if you hear nothing?