Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: SOCIAL (04/07/16)
TITLE: Silent Community
By Jennifer Woodley
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Then Sister Davina’s pleasant voice broke the stillness. A prayer of thanks before breakfast gathered wandering, still-slumbering thoughts together. Heads bowed, hearts opened. ‘Dear Heavenly Father, who gave us your most precious gift, our Savior Jesus, we thank you for these blessings of food and fellowship this morning. Amen.’ A resolute Amen echoed throughout the room.
Now silence fell again, like a comfortable shawl enveloping each sister and postulate together as one – one in heart, one in mind, and one in union with their Lord. They were the glorious brides of Christ.
Then breakfast begins. In the spirit that reflects the monastic values of humility and service, Sister Margaret and Sister Edna serve the others. Eating this way, family-style where all share from a common plate and wait to be served, is a practice the monastic community cannot afford to lose. Mealtime is slow, not rushed; deliberate, not efficient; quiet but social. These are disciplines that build the virtues of self-sacrifice, love, respect and honor for one another. So this community vigilantly guards themselves from both selfishness and individualism, efficiency and busyness, the arch rivals that seek to sneak inside the cloistered community, robbing them of communal dependence and intimate fellowship, with themselves, with God, with one another.
Sister Davina takes up a reading from Jerome. It is a section of the prologue to his commentary on Isaiah. ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’ she reads, and her words dash away any remaining cobwebs from the sisters’ sleepy minds.
This is a community grounded in silence. The tinkle of silverware on china offers a melodious backdrop to Jerome’s contentious words. Smiles and affirming nods pass from one dear friend to another as juice is poured from jug to glass, or jam jar is passed from hand to hand. Lengthy periods of silence have formed a community that have discovered fresh ways to work together and creative ways to communicate with one other.
Sister Hilda and Sister Francis have prepared meals in the same kitchen, three times a day for fifteen years. Theirs is a friendship built, layer upon layer, of love and deep respect – with very few words. A smile, an indication of the hand, a touch, an amused facial expression, wide eyes and an occasional hearty laugh have been the silent gestures that have knitted these two devoted companions together.
At the Abbey, silence creates a welcoming space, to listen. God speaks in the silence of each woman’s heart and so they are learning in a posture of silence, to be still in their heart and then to listen. Nothing can be heard in a busy, noisy heart. And when there is scheduled times to break the silence, the sisters are more attuned to listen to each other. Silence is teaching them to listen; to listen to their own hurts and pain, and to listen well to the hurts and pain of each other.
This silent community may well exemplify a behavior so unattractive and foreign to our culture, yet so urgently needed, if we are to become the people who offer true life and intimate relation with one another.
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