I have heard the story below in several different forms, but the message is consistent.
A certain young girl entered a convent to prepare herself for a life of celibacy and service. The institution was one of a very strict order. Besides the requirement of the three evangelical counsels, poverty, chastity, and obedience, the order imposed three other regulations, stability, that is, no leave taking from the grounds, severity, the flagellation of the flesh, and silence, not a word dare be uttered. The Mother Superior explained to the new girl that this rule of silence was rigid. However, once every five years just two words were allowed to be spoken. So at the end of the first five years the novice was called in and instructed that she had earned the rare privilege of expressing two words. Now, what would they be? Her answer: “Food rotten!” Five years later the Mother Superior called her in again and offered her the privilege of two more words. What would she say this time? “Beds hard!” The third time she was called in the novice was exasperated and exclaimed: “I quit!” Whereupon the Mother Superior retorted: “Good riddance! All you have ever done since you have been here is to complain!”
Silence as a practice without a purpose is useless. The old story says nothing about the reason or the reward of the discipline of silence, instead it focuses on the physical rule of keeping silent. Silence as a Christian discipline is not merely for the sake of endurance, but it is to open our inner selves to the presence of God. If we are not seeking God in our quiet, then we will only feel the “hard bed.” When we open ourselves to the mystical presence of God, we find peace and comfort in our quiet times. We find renewal and freshness that takes us through our difficulties.
- unexpected dialogue (whoisbert.wordpress.com)