Monday, April 1, 2013

Silence, Solitude and the Secret

I spent the weekend at a Benedictine monastery.  That is not a first for me, but every time I spend some time in a monastery, it feels as fresh as if it were the first time.  I enjoy doing this at any point, but I particularly enjoy it during any of the special Christian times.  Christmas and Easter are the two prime Christian seasons, so those two times are especially good occasions for me to disappear into a monastery.
  
I am not against Christmas and Easter.  In fact, I am very much for them.  After all, it is not surprising that one celebrates birth and the other celebrates death with a postscript about new life.  Every human being negotiates these twin doors of life.  Obviously I have come through birth’s door, but I also recognize I am in no hurry to exit through death’s door. 

As a Christian, I appreciate the monastic setting for more unadulterated participation in these two seasons.  By that I mean there is less commercialization and hype about Christmas and Easter.  At least, that is my experience.  During this Easter season, the monks in the cloister may well be exchanging chocolate bunnies and flowers, for all I know.  But for me, all was left somewhere out there in the world as I drove up the drive and found my temporary niche in this community.

I have been coming to St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana for a long time now.  Growing up as a Quaker on my Indiana farm, I had no clue there were monasteries and monks in my home state.  In fact, I am not even sure I would have known what a monk was.  In my growing up years, there were no monks, no Jews, no Buddhists---nothing but some Protestants and one lonely Catholic Church that I, certainly, had no idea what went on in that place.  I was provincial, but I would not have known what that meant either!

Growing up on a farm in mid-20th century, I experienced a great deal of solitude and silence.  Countless hours by myself were the norm, but I would not have thought about it as solitude.  If you had asked me, I would simply have said that I spent a great deal of time alone!  And that fact also introduced a great deal of silence into my life.  I was ok with that.

Traditionally Quakers operate with some significant silence.  The Quaker implication was if we are talking all the time, how could we expect to hear God speak?  It made sense to me.  And I am sufficiently introverted enough to prefer solitude and silence to a big, noisy crowd.  But I am no recluse.  I like people and I like being with people. 

The monastery offers the perfect combination.  Here I can have solitude and a great deal of silence.  But the monks have a wonderful daily routine of coming together to worship and revel in the Spirit.  And they are quite fine with me joining in.  When I show up, they are hospitable.  They care, but do not intrude on my life.  In a sense they offer an exquisite space and time for me to explore more deeply my journey between birth’s door and the exit known as death.

Is there a secret to be learned, as we go through life?  When I first began a more serious exploration of the spiritual journey, I suspected there was a secret.  I was not at all convinced Quakers had the secret, although there were some amazing Quakers who seemed to have found a secret and whose lives were utterly amazing.  In my studies I began to learn about a whole host of others who apparently had learned the spiritual secret, too.  Many of them were various monks throughout the centuries.  A number of them became saints.  

So years ago, I started coming to the monastery to be alone, quiet and to look for the secret.  I think I have found it!  The secret is there is no secret!  At first I was disappointed.  And later I realized I am quite relieved.  Let me explain.

There is no secret because the news is spilled---the good news, that is.  The good news is nothing but love.  It was love that brought you through that first door of life: birth.  You entered this world as a child of God and have been loved from the git-go.  During our lives, we are tempted to mess up things.  We become independent and often egocentric.  We prefer talking to listening; silence is deadened by noise.  We often prefer the comfort of others to the fears of our own naked solitude.

And we long for life’s secret.  Does anyone care about me?  Does anyone know me---really know me?  Does my life matter?  There are so many “answers” in our savvy, technological world, but none seem to be the secret answer we seek.  Too often I am tempted to settle for presents, chocolate bunnies and flowers.

I like all three, but they are not secret answers.  Then here in this place I hear it again.  There is no secret.  It is proclaimed universally.  God loved you.  God loves you.  And God will always love you!  The secret is out.

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