“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
For language to have meaning, there must be intervals of silence somewhere, to divide word from word and utterance from utterance. He who retires into silence does not necessarily hate language. Perhaps it is love and respect for language which imposes silence upon him. For the mercy of God is not heard in words unless it is heard, both before and after the words are spoken, in silence.
TS Eliot and Thomas Merton were both writers who spent a lot of their lives and writings searching for the ultimate meaning of life. They chose different paths. Merton was born in France and made his way to the US and became a citizen. Eliot, on the other hand, was born in St. Louis MO and immigrated to England where he became a subject of the Queen. Eliot married twice and dedicated his life to his wives and poetry. Merton joined the Abbey of Gethsemane and became the most famous writing Monk of our time. These great writers left us with a treasure trove of great literature. They were different but the same. The above quotes inform us that they had a commonality of thought about silence and meditation.
Their joint cry is that we hear and see the most when we cut ourselves off from the language and light that surround us. That cutting off is called by different names, silence, contemplation, meditation but it always has the same end desire, to communicate with something, someone outside of ourselves. We all have an inbuilt desire to discover our true selves that God created. We are bogged down, stitched up with the learning and cares of the world, and we all know there must be something more. That more only exists when we move beyond.
Eliot stresses the need to allow ourselves to be swallowed in the darkness so that the light might manifest itself. He aptly states that if we create our own hope it will be a prejudicial hope that is wrapped in our own desires. Only when we allow love that is not purely self-love enter, can we see light rise from darkness.
Merton reminds us that we are noise machines who seek to fill in every void with more noise. For our language (noise) to have any meaning there must be times of silence that allow us to digest what we have taken into our souls. That silence is the time when we experience divine translation of human noise. In the brightness of the light of God sometimes our utterly meaningless sound becomes the voice of God.
Some years ago I spent a few days at days at St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, Louisiana. I chose to stay in the guest rooms of the Monastery itself rather than the retreat house. By doing so I experienced the complete rhythm of Monastic life. Prayer, work, sharing meals and recreation time. I sat at the Abbot’s table in the refectory for meals and that is where I really got a message in the silence of meal time. There was a young monk reading some “Vatican News.” He was an otherwise engaging and intelligent young man, but his reading skills for this kind of stuff were horrible. Therefore I chose to tune him out but there was another sound that captivated my brain. It was the clanging of the dishes as the monks ate their food. That clanging became all that I heard. Mysteriously, God gave me a message in that absence of my noise. I have never again taken a single meal for granted. The noise of the dishes reminds me of the abundance that God has provided for me and the desire I must have to share it with the world. My silence allowed God to break into my life and speak to me. Merton reminds us, “For the mercy of God is not heard in words unless it is heard, both before and after the words are spoken, in silence.”
Seek the dark silence today so that you might experience the light.
Lord, lead me to a time of silence and holy darkness that will allow me to get a glimpse of your light. It is the light that illuminates beyond my imagination. Allow me to silently bask in that light so that I may see you more clearly.