Grand silence is a monastic tradition which includes significant portions of the day/night where the whole community, visitors included, observe silence. That means no talking. At Mount Calvary for the days I was there grand silence began at 8:30 p.m. and lasted through breakfast the next morning. (Breakfast began at 8 a.m.) Granted I slept during part of that time which made it easy to maintain silence (unless you snore). Still, I don't normally go to bed at 8:30 at night or stay in bed until 8 in the morning.
Personally, I was worried that I would run into someone and just strike up a conversation, totally forgetting that I was supposed to keep my mouth shut. And it is an effort to keep my mouth shut at times. (And there are many times in my life I would have been wise to do so! See the last paragraph of this post for one example.)
My fears were totally unfounded. It was a wonderful experience, one that would be difficult to attempt at home, but just delightful there. Why was that?
Our world is a very noisy place. You discover that after spending some time in silence. It has been valuable for me to notice that because of my experience. Noise is quite distracting. The incessant talking when the television is on – talking heads, commercials pushing our consumerist philosophy, pundits alternating between decrying our political woes/solving our political problems – just drives me nuts now. I find very little of value there. (Actually, I found very little of value before I visited Mount Calvary. In fact, most of what Dorothy and I watch of late is the Food Network. Hmmmm.) And television is just one example.
Anyway, being the distractable kind of guy I am (ADD), it has come home to me rather audibly the amount of noise distraction that exists in my world. I had the same experience as a student in Germany many years ago. There was an Arab oil embargo on and fuel was at a premium. The German government passed a law that there would be no driving on Sundays (2 a.m. Sunday to 2 a.m. Monday). I awoke that first Sunday to the thunderous pealing of church bells from all over the city. Wow! And when the bells weren't ringing it was quiet, so quiet that I could hear the tweeting of the train whistle from miles away. I enjoyed that silence as I enjoyed the silence at Mount Calvary.
The second thing that I found quite ironic was my positive experience with grand silence, when at the same time I am decrying of late my experience of the silence of God. Though I haven’t to my mind resolved all of those issues, I have decided to seek God in the silence and have begun sporadically practicing silence as a spiritual discipline. That certainly reflects Elijah's experience. I don't know that it is the same thing as mindfulness (a Buddhist and Christian practice from long ago), but perhaps similar in some ways. I don't know. I'm a neophyte. But I've decided I want to embrace the silence instead of complain about it. I want to join God in his silence rather than criticize him for it. Does that make sense?
One more note.... I actually miss grand silence and told Dorothy so. (One of those times when I should have kept my mouth shut ;-) ) I tried to quickly to cover up by saying that I didn’t mean for her to be silent! You guys out there, if you ever have the positive experience I had with grand silence, you probably won’t want to enthusiastically gush about that to your wife. Not a good idea. Lots of room for misunderstanding, you know. You guys out there, you understand, right?
Grace and peace,