In just a few days, due to the amazing generosity of people in my life, I am driving up to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, outside of Atlanta, Georgia, for a few days of solitude and silence.
This particularly monastery is a Trappist (or Cistercian) monastery. Now, there are different monastic orders: Franciscans, Benedictines, etc. From what little I’ve learned, the different orders have different emphases: study, poverty, service, etc. Broadly speaking, the Cistercians are focused on prayer and silence. They are not the “most silent” monastic order—my understanding is that the Carthusian monks get that distinction—but silence is a major theme of their life. When you are at the monastery, visitors are generally expected to eat in silence and to talk very quietly, and then only when necessary.
In other words, this is not a place that is interested in reinforcing my life “as it is.”
If you know me at all, you’d think that my introverted self would be chomping at the bit for this: silence and solitude! No people! Woo hoo!
Well, you’d be wrong.
In a way, I am absolutely eager and ready to go. I am hungry for this, and have been trying to get something like this to happen for months now.
But in other ways, more than ever I know that (a) wherever you go, you bring yourself (or your SELF), and (b) when you really get alone and quiet, you can easily encounter some of the uglier parts of your soul.
As I’ve written before, the “solitary chair”” can be terrifying, because most of us subtly surround ourselves with enough noise to keep us distracted from the real issues in our lives: our brokenness, our deep emotional/spiritual struggles. There are simply things we do not want to see, confront, or deal with.
Silence exposes those things.
On one hand, going away to someplace like a monastery or a campsite or wherever seems like an easy exercise in getting away from the noise of life. But for me, I need to be honest with myself and admit that I can easily carry other “noise” with me: books, music, and my “monkey mind.”
Noise doesn’t always look like Netflix and McDonald’s.
So next week, I am traveling with the absolute bare minimum: no computer, a journal (handwritten!), only the Bible and 1 other text.
My choice is to let God speak and to not distract myself. To try and go deeper, to the next level of foundation in my spiritual life. I want to see more clearly: both God, Christ, other people, as well as my own brokenness and shortcomings.
This is not necessarily something to look forward to.
But I do know that I need it.
(You do too.)
I’m hoping for a deeper revelation of love; a deeper experience of healing and peace; and more centeredness, loving detachment, and clarity in my life.
But I also realize that what I carry into the monastery (including expectations) is not what might be waiting for me. So I hold all of those things loosely, and say (as Mary did), “LET IT BE DONE TO ME.”
If you’ve never gotten quiet and taken the time to really let God speak to you, I’d say (1) I understand; it’s probably pretty scary, and (2) what are you waiting for?
As C.S. Lewis said of Christ, “No, he’s not tame: he’s dangerous… but he’s good.”