December 2, 2011

Guarding Interior Silence in our Vigilance

The spiritually mature long for silence - but such silence does not happen by chance.  Out of devotion to Christ, one must carefully order not only the space and time in which he lives, but also take steps to protect his conscience and struggle for purity of heart.  It is difficult work and often it feels like nothing is happening, that it is a waste of time.  Yet perservere in your devotion and attention to the Lord in this holy silence.  Silence filled with prayerful expectation is a spiritual place of encountering the Word who seeks us out. 

To enter into prayerful silence we must withdraw from exterior and interor noise.  This is not an escape -- it is the first step to dealing with reality straight up.  This is why monks go to their cells, and it is why we need to make a space in our homes that is dedicated to prayer, a place in our lives where we make prayer our priority daily.  This place must be sheltered from exterior noise, from noise like the radio, TV, and computer.  If we are not sheltered from it, such noise drowns us in distractions, and makes us forgetful of the deeper spiritual purpose that the Lord has entrusted to us.  But in addition to the noisy world around us, there is an interior racket that comes from the enchanting fantasies we entertain about things or people, fantasies promising satisfication whether physical, emotional or even spiritual.  If this cacophony goes unchecked, we find ourselves powerless against all kinds of irrational tendencies.  Unchecked, we suddenly find ourselves sitting in judgment over one another, ourselves and God -- we are such poor judges: blinded by envy, arrogance, and self-pity. 

But what happens if for part of the day I renounce a little entertainment?   What happens when I renounce impulses to try to satisfy myself with things, people or food?  What if, instead of wasting time judging my neighbor, I spent a little time in silence listening to the Lord?

The ancient monks understood the importance of keeping silence in daily life.  They understood that the physical cell in which they dwelt was only meant to be a sign of the interior silence they were meant to keep.  Such silence is vigilant, constantly on the watch for the presence of the Lord who visits our hearts.  St. Athanasius in his reflections on the Life of St. Anthony described this spiritual place as an inner mountain of hidden intimacy with God.  St. Teresa of Avila described this place of interior encounter with the Lord as a garden filled with flowers of virtue and a castle filled with innumerable rooms of personal encounter.   St. John of the Cross described it as a whole new world with exotic islands just waiting to be explored.  William of St. Thierry considered it the inner cell:

The outward cell is the house in which your soul dwells together with your body; the inner cell is your conscience and in that it is God who should dwell with your spirit, He who is more interior to you than all esle within you.  The door of the outward enclosure is a sign of the guarded door within you, so that as the bodily seneses are prevented from wandering abroad by the outward enclosure so the inner senses are kept always within their own domain.  Love your inner cell then, love your outward cell too, and give to each of them the care which belongs to it.  William of St. Thierry, The Golden Epistle, trans. Theodore Berkeley, Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications (1971), ##105-106.