“It all happened in silence; it happens in silence.” A Monk of Snowmass Monastery
While visiting Gethsemani Abbey in 2013 (former home and resting place of Thomas Merton), I wandered off into the woods for a brief, silent walk. Although it was starting to get cold and the walk was beginning to feel long – I sensed a nudge to go just a little farther. Once reaching the top of the hill a deer briskly jumped over the path just in front of me and I was left smiling in awe the entire way back to the abbey.
We’re all familiar with the moments in our lives that require a standstill of understanding: an awestruck moment while being with a loved one, the loss of someone dear, looking out on the vast landscape and being filled with wonder, or even an understanding smile from a stranger. To me, these times are reminders of the presence of silence and the great mysteries it beholds – even beyond the silence. The moments may be brief but they remain a cornerstone to our individual ways of being and understanding.
Not much can be said of the workings of our interior lives; words might give us a sense of direction or an idea of concepts at best, but they can never behold what is beyond words, nothing can. Silence often seems an appropriate response, resting place, reaction, and interaction with these aspects of our lives; a place where we can encounter and not experience, a place to be and not to define.
With that being said, silence’s presence is impossible to write about, let alone attempt to explain. Our interactions with the great mysteries are different for each of us, none of them wrong but instead an individual encounter from our own unique stance. As soon as we begin to define or explain, the encounter vanishes just as quickly as it appeared.
Beyond the moments of where our understanding is halted, I believe there’s another way of being that has possibilities of touching the mystery of and within silence. This other way seems to me to be intention – giving minutes, seconds, days, stances (internal or external) towards silence, not for the sake of an experience but perhaps instead for the reverence towards that great unknowing.
Silence’s presence rests with us: in our grappling with words, our aimless wanders, our defeated moments of sadness, and our awestruck stares from the child within us. The profundity of these moments are solely for ourselves and sometimes those we experience them with. Few will find my moment with a deer in the woods to be a story of eloquence or an impressive moment in time — but for me: it was an encounter with the silence, it was the great unknown, it was that reassuring smile from a stranger, it was home.
“Our silence is not just emptiness and death. On the contrary, it should draw ever nearer, and bring us nearer, to the fullness of life. We are silence because the words by which our souls would fain live cannot be expressed in earthly language.” They Speak By Silences, by a Carthusian Translated from the French by a monk of Parkminster