Among the things that came easiest to me during my “Benedictine Experience” (in spite of what a lot of folks thought when they heard about it) was taking and keeping a vow of silence.
Part of it’s ease comes from my being an introvert. Yes, I know, it’s hard for many to believe. “You get up there every Sunday and preach!,” they’ll tell – something, I guess, that puts me up there with dancing with a lamp shade on my head. My understanding of introversion and extroversion is informed, though, not by what I do in public but by how I “recharge” when I am done. Extroverts, I was taught in seminary, recharge their drained batteries by being with people… while introverts recharge their batteries by being alone. At the end of a long, hard week, you see, I find myself enjoying silence and solitude.
Used to be I felt guilty about this: I mean, a pastor should just want to be with people, shouldn’t he (or she)? Then, I remembered that Jesus often found a lonely place apart. It’s helped me to accept the way I am wired.
Of course, opposites attract. Kathy, you see, in an extrovert. Not so surprisingly, we can go to the same family reunion and Kathy can say “boy, when can we do that again!” while I am sighing under my breath, “I sure am glad we got that over with!” It’s something I have to be mindful of as Friday approaches. What’s good for the goose is not necessary what the gander needs!
Anyway, back to the vow of silence…
Yes, in some ways it came naturally to this introvert. In still other ways, it was refreshing – freeing me to look and listen to “life”… and helping me to form thoughts that really might be sharing. I’m mindful of Henri Nouwen, analyzing the downside of what he calls “our wordy world”: “There was a time not too long ago without radios and televisions, stop signs, yield signs, merge signs, bumper stickers, and the ever-present announcements indicating price increases or special sales. There was a time without the advertisements which now cover whole cities with words. Recently I was driving through Los Angeles, and suddenly I had the strange sensation of driving through a huge dictionary. Wherever I looked there were words trying to take my eyes from the road. They said, ‘Use me, take me, buy me, drink me, smell me, touch me, kiss me, sleep with me.’ In such a world who can maintain respect for words?” (The Way of the Heart)
I’m mindful, as well, of what Dad used to say: “God’s given us two eyes, two ears, and one mouth… maybe it’s His way of saying we ought to look and listen twice as much as we talk!”
Of course, the “vow” does not eliminate all talk. There was “spiritual direction” and time for “sacred readings” during mealtime and points at which we could ask questions as we engage topics related to “Benedictine Spirituality.” Far from being a call to complete silence, then, the “vow” was a commitment to meaningful words.
And, as I moved forward (even until today), I find myself wanting to talk less… and listen and look better.
St. Benedict and his followers remind us that there’s plenty of wisdom in the old words at the railroad crossing – wisdom that goes well beyond our physical being, wisdom that penetrates to our best as spiritual and social beings: “Stop, look, and listen!”