To be read: March 22, July 22, November 22
Monks should always diligently pursue silence, especially during the hours of the night. 2Therefore, every day, whether a fast day or for ordinary days, 3as soon as they have risen from their evening meal, let all sit together in one place, and let one read the Conferences or the Lives of the Fathers, or something else that will edify the hearers, 4but not, however, the Heptateuch or the Books of the Kings, because it would not be wholesome for weak minds to hear this part of the Scripture at that hour; they should, however, be read at other times. 5On a fast day, between Vespers and the reading of the Conferences, there should be a short interval. 6Then four or five pages shall be read, or as much as the hour will permit. 7This will allow all to assemble in one place during the time of the reading, including those who were engaged in work assigned to them. 8All, therefore, having assembled in one place, shall say Compline; and after going out from Compline, there is then to be no more permission for anyone to say anything. 9If, however, anyone is found to break this rule, let him undergo heavy punishment, unless the needs of guests should arise, or the Abbot should perhaps give a command to anyone. 10But even this is to be done with the utmost seriousness and moderation.
Silence. A rare blessing. Learning to be silent is more than just keeping an external quiet. It is about quieting the heart and mind, and being comfortable with ourselves first, and then becoming aware of the Presence of God and being drawn into His peace. But it is indeed a challenge for most of us to be still and silent in today’s world. Our lives are filled with clamor, and when there is that rare quiet space in our day, we tend to fill it with music, TV, the internet, or some other modern “convenience” available at hand. We don’t know what to do with ourselves when we have the gift of quiet moments, or much less how to actively pursue that type of spiritual quietude.
Why should we pursue silence? It is not simply because it is a recommended discipline of the Rule. Discipline is not the end or goal of the Rule. Rather we must think of silence as creating an atmosphere in which we can hear the still small voice of God. Silence offers us the opportunity to declutter our mind and our spirit, removing the turmoil of the day around us. This is what Saint Benedict is looking for, and the reason for what is known as the Grand Silence. The Grand Silence is the rule of silence between the conclusion of Compline until after the morning offices. The purpose of the silence is to encourage the members of the community to cultivate and deepen their relationship with the Lord by listening to the voice and the heart of God.
How can we recreate such a practice in the secular realm? Let us look at the time of the Grand Silence and ask ourselves what is our normal routine in those hours. What are we doing with our evenings? Are we setting the scene for restful, peaceful, restorative sleep? Or are we cluttering our minds and hearts with troubling thoughts and images? The prohibition Benedict gives in verse 4, that the brothers not read “the Heptateuch [the first seven Biblical books: Genesis to Judges] or the Books of the Kings, because it would not be wholesome for weak minds to hear this part of the Scripture at that hour,” gives us a glimpse of the mind of Benedict regarding the night hours. Even if we cannot engage in “pure” silence because of family obligations, or work related issues, or simply the need to get ready for the next day’s work load, we can screen what comes into our hearts and minds. We do not need to watch the news, or listen to the radio, or check the internet. We can choose to sit quietly with God. We can read one of His love letters to us in the Epistles. Or we can simply sit, ask Him to join us, and enjoy the calm peace that washes over us with His Presence.
One thought on “Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 42”
“…we must think of silence as creating an atmosphere in which we can hear the still small voice of God.” That statement will “preach” all by itself. I consider silence almost an art form. May we call it “quiet”? Although no longer a proponent of the Eastern philosophies, I remember the exercise in which one would “quiet” one’s mind. I see that in your statement. We must exert an effort to truly experience silence. If I’m just sitting in the house with no noise around me, is that truly silence? I would say no. Especially if that space between my ears is still in full blown swirl mode. To create the atmosphere you speak of requires me to “clear the machine”, as it were, of all the gear grinding that can take place. Sadly, I think, too many are not willing to take that step of creating space for Him because we don’t really want to hear what He might say to us. (Or maybe that’s just me? 😕 ) I can spend hours reading His love letters to us (I like the way you phrase that), but if I have not set my heart and mind to hear from Him, then I have resorted to a strictly religious act instead of engaging in a relationship enhancement. One is dry and useless while the other is the very stuff of life. What you refer to as the “pure silence” is an excellent name for that place we should seek on a regular basis.
I need to do much more sitting “quietly with God”. It seems that our restoratiion and healing can be found only in that place.