Since reading Kathleen Norris' excellent book The Cloister Walk, I have longed to spend several days (preferably a week) in a monastery or an abbey. Why?
I crave silence.
When I lead Lake Murray Community Church's women's retreat several years ago, my main sources for my talks on spending a whole day with God were Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline and Intimacy with the Almighty by Charles Swindoll. The latter book is a small, slender volume that I received at a silent retreat at Oceanside's Mission San Luis Rey with College Avenue Baptist Church, a birthday gift from my dear friend Johanna. The day was lovely, and the mission's retreat grounds are gorgeous, spotted with beds of roses, the surrounding hills a green not often seen in Southern California excepting a few weeks in spring. I sat under the drooping branches of an ancient pepper tree, writing in my journal to God and enjoying the sunshine warming my back. We were directed to spend several hours in the morning and even more time in the afternoon in silence, listening to God and basking in His Presence. And it was this kind of retreat I sought to provide for our Lake Murray women as well.
Swindoll's book focuses on four words: simplicity, silence, solitude, and surrender. Swindoll writes,
"Yet, I am more convinced than ever that there is no way you and I can move toward a deeper, intimate relationship with our God without protracted times of stillness, which includes one of the rarest of all experiences: absolute silence" (35).He later adds,
"Silence is indispensible if we hope to add depth to our spiritual life.... It sharpens the keen edge of our souls, sensitizing us to those ever-so-slight nudgings from our heavenly Father. Noise and words and frenzied, hectic schedules dull our senses, closing our ears to His still, small voice and making us numb to His touch" (37-38).Silence is not just a luxury; it is a necessity in our spiritual lives.
And I crave it. This fall has been one of the busiest times in my life, with a new six-week Brave Writer MLA research class I designed, wrote, taught, and for which I still need to grade the final papers. In addition, I'm also writing both monthly subscriptions at Brave Writer: The Arrow (5th-8th grades)and The Boomerang (7th-9th grades) which involves quite a bit of time and some rather hairy deadlines at each month's end. In addition, I am designing, writing, and teaching a new course at our co-op Class Days: a 4th-6th grade poetry class that meets 18 times (every other week) through June, plus I still teach my usual high school writing course which involves much grading of essays. Fortunately, I am tutoring only one student right now rather than the three I had last year. And, of course, I am home schooling our four young people in grades 4, 7, 9, and 12. It's been crazy-busy, and right now, more than ever before, I crave silence and solitude, time to rest mind and body and to spend time seeking and dwelling in God's Presence.
I imagine myself writing in my journal, feeling the sun on my face as I sit in a lovely garden, praying throughout my day, sitting at His feet in a chapel. I see myself having time to concentrate on writing, to pray His Word through the Book of Common Prayer, to live the Divine Hours each day as an extension of my own personal prayer and meditation.
Especially as both an introvert and a writer, I probably need silence, crave silence, more than most people do. Yet it simply is not that time of life for me. This is the final year that all four of our children will be home for school as Elizabeth prepares college applications and takes the SAT. I want to be with my kids, to drink in their presence, their noise, their jokes, their affectionate hugs and cuddles ... I love having teenagers who still want to cuddle with their mom.
In less than ten years, this house will be empty of children. No more home schooling. No more arguments to break up and judge. No more hushing them when they get too noisy inside. I will have more than enough silence then, and I'll probably look back to an ordinary, busy, noisy day like today with poignant longing.
So I pray for a short refueling break, a day or two or three to refuel my engines with His Presence and then return to the daily grind which may seem inordinately noisy and crazy, but will be wonderful.
And now it's time to study German vocabulary with my 4th grader....