“I’m speechless,” remarked Brother Elias Marechal, OCSO, after a congregation of several hundred young evangelicals vigorously applauded his visit to their worship service last month. But then he quipped, “We don’t talk in the monastery much.”
Grace Fellowship in Athens, GA (home of the University of Georgia) recently invited this deeply contemplative Trappist monk to come and speak to the congregation, comprised mostly of students. Grace’s pastor, John Raymond, has for the past decade received spiritual direction from Elias. When he led his young congregation on a program for deepening their inner prayer life, he invited the monk to come visit. Monks rarely leave their cloister, but Elias got the approval from his superiors to visit this congregation and spend about a half hour offering insight and instruction in prayer. Thankfully, Grace Fellowship runs a podcast, and recorded the talk so we can all enjoy it.
The first eight minutes of the podcast consist mostly of introductory remarks by Raymond, along with affectionate reminiscences of how the pastor and the monk first met — it turns out Elias knew Raymond’s mother when she was pregnant with him! But beginning at the 7:49 mark, the conversation turns to the topic of “the inner life” — and for the next half hour Elias discusses the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Jesus’s paradigm of radical inclusivity and equality, the importance of cultivating inner silence, the true meaning of Christian love, and several practices for fostering a contemplative prayer discipline. He packs a lot in to this brief audio recording.
Elias’s voice is soft and gentle, and just listening to him speak is itself an invitation into contemplative stillness. But his stories about the fruit of prayer — from his own initiation into silence as a freshman at Notre Dame, to anecdotes about others whose lives have been changed by silence and compassion — make this podcast come alive.
You’ll want to listen to it more than once; I know I did (and I’m familiar with Elias and his wisdom).
When I first became interested in Buddhism, a friend of mine took me to the Tibetan Buddhist monastery here in Atlanta so I could hear a “real dharma talk” from a Tibetan monk. Well, Christianity doesn’t have a “dharma talk” tradition, but if we did, I suspect it would sound a lot like this talk from a Trappist.
Incidentally, Brother Elias is the author of the wonderful book Tears of An Innocent God: Conversations on Silence, Kindness and Prayer. That’s well worth picking up as well.
2018 Update: Brother Elias has now also appeared on the podcast I co-host, “Encountering Silence.” To hear it, click here.