Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important, permission to speak should rarely be granted even to perfect disciples, even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation; for it is written, 'In much speaking you will not escape sin" (Prov. 10:19), and in another place, Death and life are in the power of the tongue' (Prov. 18:21). " - Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 6.
Well that portion of the rule is interesting, isn't it? We are supposed to shut up . . . forever. Actually I don't agree with that statement. Benedict was a realist. He intrinsically knew the value of silence. But he knew monastics are human. He knew we would laugh and joke and screw around. But he wanted us to do better than what we are.
At Saint Benedict's Abbey the Great Silence falls after compline. No word is spoken for hours until at Vigils the words arise, "O Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise." And I confess that as an Oblate I have sometimes not embraced this silence. As Oblates, even when we are at the site of our monastic community, we are apart. We live in different spaces. And so, when are apart from the monks, we often do not hold to the Great Silence, we do not recognize the incredible opportunity in our lives. And when we do that, I somehow know I have lost something important.
In my life outside the abbey, I find myself, as an interim pastor, in a place where I am apart from my family. I find myself living alone and I often try desperately to fill that space with the noise of the TV or radio. But when I do listen to Benedict, I begin to understand. If I silence the noise I use to fill the loneliness of being apart from my wife and children, I begin to feel something unexpected. I feel, in the silence, the presence of the Lord of Creation who speaks to me. I must admit I have experienced no huge revelations, and no blinding visions. But I do feel, in the absence of noise, the One who called me by name at the beginning of time.
Thank you Benedict. You teach us to shut up and listen. You knew God would touch us even more in the midst of silence.