by Charles LaFond
In these weekly articles from The Daily Sip, informed with images of Williamsburg wreaths, we have been considering how to discern, research, draft, write and live by a Rule of Life. A Rule of Life is an ancient monastic tool which monks and nuns have used for millennia to guide their lives by reading one “chapter” or topic-page per day, written by them, to remind them of their hopes for their life. In this series we are exploring what it means to drag The Rule of Life from the cloister to the kitchen. Each week, we will look at a new chapter, offer tips for writing it and offer ways to use it in your spiritual formation and daily practice.
This image of a “coffee themed wreath from Williamsburg, Virginia, honors how much I love early morning rituals of coffee, candles and silence. So grab your coffee and let’s begin!
Before writing your Rule of Life chapter, go back to your notes on the subject at hand, the clippings you have assembled from Google, perhaps from a paper file (I try to keep a paper file on each chapter so that when I see things I like, or jot lines down from sermons or conversations or articles (I read WEAVINGS a lot!)) I can drop them into the file so that later, when I am writing or rewriting on a chapter of my Rule, I can go to the file and find there, waiting for me, those clippings and notes I have been collecting over time. I do this with sermons as well, though my preaching these days is much reduced.
Use a critical eye. Do not include everything just because it presents itself. Look it over. Wait on the Holy Spirit. Offer it all up to God and to your conscious and subconscious and see what seems to emerge rather highlighted – not literally but – what stands out and seems really to be throbbing to be placed within your Rule. (“Pick me! Pick me!” the passages seem to shout as you prepare to write your chapter. It is lovely.)
And again, do not linger so long that you never actually get to writing your “SFD” (sh**ty first draft a term coined by Elizabeth Gilbert). You can always go back and edit later, but get a chapter down on paper even if you need simply to write what you are thinking – and then insert the favored quotes in later. And, as you will see I have done below (I have followed my redraft with my notes so that you can see how the chapter emerged) you may wish to use the framing questions as the basis of your outline if you need a way to get started.
Here is the “SFD” of my Chapter on Silence
“God spoke His eternal word in silence, and He wishes us to receive His words in silence.” Thomas Merton
There is an irony that Jesus comes striding into flesh and humanity as the “word” and yet does so from God’s primordial silence of flowing love within the Trinity. Could Jesus have ever imagined that there would be such noise – so many words – competing in our culture for our time and attention?
The silence of early morning is the gift I give to myself. It often requires that I go to be early and so miss time with people or watching TV or working late. I decline many evening invitations and do so sadly but intentionally. Anything else would be to steal time from God. For me, in my life, late nights and short mornings is theft. I need those hours early in the morning when nobody calls, nobody expects me. It is a time for some good coffee, a candle, no lights, and my black lab, Kai, snoring gently beside me. If I awake to sunlight (except on my sabbath day) I feel something has been taken from me. I have been robbed.
Silence is a source of healing for me. God takes the words of my life, those spoken of me and by me, and heals them, washing them like one would a corpse, with scented oils, some grief and some gratitude. The manipulative, unkind, untrue words about me from others wash down a holy drain. The words said of me and by me which have blessed, somehow remain, like wheat and chaff. Silence does this work if the sitting is intentionally within God. So I make the time (rather than trying to “find” the time) and I sit, in silence, letting God wash words.
“Yet (the healing power of silence) does not come cheaply. It depends on our willingness to face all that is within us, light and dark, and to heed all the inner voices that make themselves heard in silence.” The SSJE Rule
Silence offers me the opportunity to look at my life, which can be hard work. Some things I do and say, I do not want to see. I would rather self-anesthetize with busy-ness. And God will sometimes, through the Holy Spirit, use a pointer to highlight what is lovely and what is stinky. In silence I can learn to be my best self – what the church calls, conversion-of-life.
The Greater Silence which occurs mostly at night and in the early morning in my home is a time for hospitality to God. God knocks. We open the door and then sit with God as one would with a guest. Would I welcome a human guest and then go on bustling around my house listening to the television? No. I would sit with my guest. So sitting with God is what happens in intentional, prayerful, wordless silence. It is difficult to face the soft addiction to electronic devices along with the audience we call our friends and colleagues. The pings and dings and buzzing which say “you are being paid attention to!” are also a form of addiction. Silence is a time set apart from all technology – a sort of word-fasting – sort of abstinence.
Silence also offers my life integrity, especially as a priest. It is not hard to identify a preacher or religious teacher or pastor who lives little in silence. That is not who I want to be. The silence in my mornings and days, in my retreats and sabbath days, lends my words integrity. “Preaching God implies silence. If preaching is not born of silence, it is a waste of time. Writing and teaching must be fed by silence or they are a waste of time. There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them. The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak. But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men.” Thomas Merton, January 8, 1950
The “world” described in “be in the world and not of the world” is not the planet, it is the words which batter us like hail from the media around us. No longer do I need to be cloistered in a monastery, but I still need my own cloister – made by me – to defend me from the words of an economic system which craves my money and an ecclesial system which craves my manipulation. There are powerful forces bent on separating me both from God and from myself. Silence defends me and reminds me.
I will rely on my Rule of Life to remind me of my need for silence. I will schedule time most mornings for long periods of silence and will pay the price for them by loosing late-nights to the self-kindness of sleep. I will keep the Greater Silence by limiting noise and words between 9:00 pm and 4:00 am. And when I notice that I want to fill that time with noise, I will sit down harder and get curious about what pain or fear I am trying to anesthetize with noise, words or busy-ness.
May the Holy Spirit be my companion, a gift of God to help me in Silence-crafting, even mischievous and playful and wise as She is. May I love this world and yet never forget that another parallel kingdom is what I long for as I remember my beloved teacher’s words:
“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves me alone. Behind my image, below my words, above my thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within me. No one else can bring me news of this inner world.” John O’Donohue
Notes from which the Chapter was Formed
And for the sake of creative archeology, here is the early outline of a chapter on Silence, harvested and ordered from the notes I took over time on the subject. After 30 years of reading, experience and study, I have a lot to say on the subject of Silence. It is very hard to discern what to say and what to leave out but again, if the chapter is too long, you will end up stuck with a chapter you do not want to read. The whole point is to simply write a series of short letters to yourself which coach you, in your own, owned words, on the various subjects of your Rule so that you course-correct your life each thirty days of so if you have 30 chapters) and so never wander too far off the course you have set for yourself. The chapter will be modified slightly over time. And again, I suggest it hold wide right-column margins so that as you use it, you can make notes for future versions, but one must begin with a chapter draft from notes carefully chosen.
TITLE: SILENCE Chapter Two – notes
What do you see in scripture, church tradition or reason regarding this topic?
- God spoke His eternal word in silence, and He wishes us to receive His words in silence. – Thomas Merton
- Silence is a constant source of restoration. Yet its healing power does not come cheaply. It depends on our willingness to face all that is within us, light and dark, and to heed all the inner voices that make themselves heard in silence. (SSJE Rule)
- The Greater Silence, a time for healing and hospitality to God
- Inattention to the distractions of music, careless conversation, texts and emails and their constant pinging
What do you see in yourself regarding this topic?
January 8, 1950 – Preaching God implies silence. If preaching is not born of silence, it is a waste of time. Writing and teaching must be fed by silence or they are a waste of time. There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them. The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak. But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men. 396 powerful forces bent on separation
What are your goals for how your life will express this topic?
It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No one else can bring you news of this inner world. John O’Donohue
What measures will you take to encourage the goals you have set for yourself (people, resources, checks and balances, boundaries, etc.)? What do you seek from God in assistance regarding this topic?
Thoughts In Solitude. Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc., 1993. (originally published 1958)
Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart – it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration.