I spent a weekend at Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery in Kentucky for a silent retreat. I was nervous when my friend and I pulled up into the parking lot. The Abbey stood in front of us, beautiful and intimidating – I was not sure I wanted to face the silence.
As I rolled my suitcase along the hallway the sound echoed off the walls and I felt like a loud intruder who had yet to shed the remnants of the world. I left my suitcase in my small room with its narrow cot and went to explore the grounds. The garden was a noisy place, filled with traffic sounds from a nearby road, the roar of the monk’s tractor as it harvest wheat and whirl of the lawn mowers as the landscapers maintained the grounds. I was disappointed, I knew I was there for the silence and I was not finding it.
I eventually made my way to the balcony of the church. As soon as the door closed behind me I knew this was the place I needed to be. The silence felt heavy – like a burden. It rested on me like a blanket – suffocating. I let it rest upon me and pin me down under its weight. I was facing silence for the first time – and I was terrified but relieved, I am tired of running. It was time to come face to face with myself.
I sat in the heavy silence and melted into a pool of tears. Tears of sorrow and of joy – the in-between space. Silence is the space between both. It is Holy space – and although I know it resides in me – I felt the full weight of it in the holy sanctuary.
What I felt in the church was the humming reverence of the spirit. In a small church where even the smallest sound sounded like a thunder-clap – I heard the sound of God. He is the silence.
It is a silence almost impossible to find – maybe it was the original purpose of church, a place to find silence. My church at home is big, beautiful and on the corner of a busy street. It is a place to be seen. I would not weep openly in my church – I am too visible. I feel invisible in this sanctuary and I feel freedom. I feel free to kneel, to bow my head and let my tears drip off my nose. I close my eyes and breath in the silence – and allow it to wrap itself around me – like an embrace. When the monks enter and sing, I am lulled in the arms of God.
Brother Carlos told us during our orientation that the purpose of silence is to create a hermitage in one’s heart, a place where one can be free to explore one’s feelings with curiosity and to contemplate on the day’s events. I believe he was explaining what happen to me in the church.
“To look out from this untouchable silence is what we mean by contemplation.” (Thomas Merton).
I will never forget that day in the church. The day I faced silence and felt love.