A Reflection from the Novitiate
It’s often said being in the novitiate is a little like being back to school or being in boot camp. You leave behind a world that is comfortable and familiar and walk through the door to a new and exciting adventure with new people, rules and lots of opportunity to make fresh mistakes, learn and grow.
This past week, we’ve been studying Venite Sorsum: Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns, and Verbi Sponsa.
There are so many beautiful things pointed out and described in these documents about the purpose and life of cloistered nuns. But one of the most palpable things people notice when they visit a monastery and which can so easily be broken, is the silence.
We live in a noisy world. Our senses are constantly bombarded with sights and sounds. Our minds flit from social media to television and radio to information from various print and online sources. We can’t keep up!
Within the enclosure, the nuns give up this noise (and many other things) so that [Jesus] alone may dwell in the utter silence of the cloister filling it with His Word and presence… (Verbi Sponsa.) You may recall the story of Elijah sitting in a cave waiting to hear from God. A fire came by, and the earth shook, but God’s voice did not boom from either. Rather, it came as a whisper in the wind. That’s the voice that speaks to our hearts, if we are quiet and still enough to listen.
So what is one result of cultivating silence in the monastery? Noise, any noise, begins to seem really loud. And it echos. Asceticism Lesson #1: How to silently open and close a door.
It seems a small thing, but small things matter. When careless, needless noise breaks the silence, whether a closing door, hard footfalls, needless whispers or conversations, not only do we keep ourselves from hearing Jesus in that moment, but we likely have also disturbed others. So, out of charity, we relearn how to close a door, avoid squeaky places on the floors when possible, and weigh whether a thought is important and urgent enough to break silence then and there, or if it can wait for a better time or place. When we do things quietly to maintain our silence out of love for God and for others, silence becomes virtuous and efficacious. And…after a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain silence. (St. Isaac of Syria)
Of course, most people are not called to live inside a cloister. But we all should try to carve out at least a little silence daily and invite Jesus to fill it.
May we all experience the fullness of God’s loving mystery during this Advent season as we silently await the coming of our great King.