ALWAYS LOOK DEEPER: Silence and Solitude

Both silence and solitude are distinguishing characteristics of anyone who wants to be a contemplative monk or nun. But if would be a mistake to take words on their face value and not see them in relation to the mission of a particular Order. Cathusians, for example are hermits and follow the Rule of St. Benedict. and St. Bruno.  Cistercians may be divided into two approaches, one that is called Regular Cistercians OCist,, and those that are more contemplative, Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance , O.C.S.O.

Three of the great insights as a Lay Cistercian have been related to Lectio Divina meditations. In no order of importance, for all are equally of value, they are:

Slow down your reading and your thinking. To grow deeper from my false self to my true self (Galatians 5), I had to slow down my reading of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. All of my reading now is intentionally slow, not because I am getting old, although that is indeed the case, but that I take time now to REST on the word and savour them. The Psalms, in particular, are my target for this new appoach to reciting the Liturgy of the Hours.

EXERCISE:  Read one of my favorite hymns below in your usual way, don’t pause between each stnza or between the antiphon and the Psalm, just get through it as you would normally do.

Antiphon: Turn not your head away from me nor remember my sins.

Psalm 51

3Have mercy on me, O God,

 according to your merciful love;

 according to your great compassion,

 blot out my transgressions.

 4Wash me completely from my iniquity,

 and cleanse me from my sin.


5My transgressions, truly I know them;

 my sin is always before me.

 6Against you, you alone, have I sinned;

 what is evil in your sight I have done.

 So you are just in your sentence,

 without reproach in your judgment.


7O see, in guilt I was born,

 a sinner when my mother conceived me.

 8Yes, you delight in sincerity of heart;

 in secret you teach me wisdom.


9Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be pure;

 wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

10Let me hear rejoicing and gladness,

 that the bones you have crushed may exult.

 11Turn away your face from my sins,

 and blot out all my guilt.


12Create a pure heart for me, O God;

 renew a steadfast spirit within me.

13Do not cast me away from your presence;

 take not your holy spirit from me.

14Restore in me the joy of your salvation;

 sustain in me a willing spirit.


15 I will teach transgressors your ways,

 that sinners may return to you.

16Rescue me from bloodshed, O God,

 God of my salvation,

 and then my tongue shall ring out your justice.


17 O Lord, open my lips

 and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

18For in sacrifice you take no delight;

 burnt offering from me would not please you.

 19My sacrifice to God, a broken spirit:

 a broken and humbled heart,

 O God, you will not spurn.


20In your good pleasure, show favor to Sion;

 rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

 21Then you will delight in right sacrifice,

 burnt offerings wholly consumed.

 Then you will be offered young bulls on your altar.

Antiphon: Turn not your head away from me nor remember my sins.


Read Psalm 51 one more time. This time, consciously pause 5 seconds between the antiphone and the next stanza. For each stanza, pause 5 seconds. It may seem strange, but do it.

What did you notice between your first and second reading? For me, I began to slow down my thinking and think of what I was reading. The readings seemed to be more like prayer than recitation. What do you think?

2.Make an intentional effort to move to a deeper level of spiritual awareness in your Lectio Divina, Eucharist, Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, reading Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, Holy Hour(s) before the Blessed Sacrament, silent, contemplative prayer in solitude.

A Review: The Five Levels of Spiritual Awareness are:

  • Say the Word
  • Pray the Word
  • Share the Word
  • Be the Word you say, pray and share.
  • Enjoy the Word

I begin all my prayer with saying the Word. Now, I consciously make an effort to slow everything down and go as deep as I can in Lectio Divina or whatever it is. An interesting thing about spiritual awareness, I have found that in each prayer, I have to focus with  both silence and solitude to grow deeper in the moment. When I begin a new prayer session, like moving from Office of Readings to Morning Prayer, I start the process from saying the Word all over again. Each prayer is an opportunity to purposefully move from saying to enjoyment.  Notice that it takes work on my part to keep the focus. Invoking the help of the Holy Spirit is one of the things I do automatically, without words or thoughts. It happens as I grow deeper into the Mystery of Christ.

3. There are two dimensions to silence and also two dimensions of solitude. I try to focus on moving to the deeper one. When you think about it, everything about spirituality is designed to allow you to delve into the depths of meaning and communicate with the heart. I like to use the image of my heart sitting next to the heart of Christ, then waiting.

Silence has two levels, one is the exterior silence, or going into a room and not hearing the television or spouse ratteling on about Lebron James and how good he is. This silence is physical silence, audible sounds picked up by our ear, transmitted to your brain, and translated into meaningful thoughts and ideas. It is the silence that the world recognized. The second type of silence has to do with the spiritual universe, (where we approach the Mystry of Faith). This silence is accessed through the mind with the purpose of entering the holy of holies (in human terms) the heart. It is there that one can see rightly, says the Fox to the Little Prince in the book by the same name. It is there that I seek to be when I pray, using words to open the door to the Word, hoping that Christ will see fit to have mercy on me and travel along the path to where I sit waiting for the Lord, more than sentiniles wait for the dawn, more than a deer longs for running streams. This is the end product which is not a conclusion but rather a state of relationship with God, definitely invisible but most real to those who eneter it. It is the holy of holies in each heart, the place that is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I am the caretaker.

Solitude also has the characteristics of silence. There is external solitude that exists in the physical and mental universes, we sometimes call the world, and access with our senses. If we walk into a room and don’t hear a sound we say it is silent in here. If we walk into a room and find outselves alone, we say I am alone and no other humans are there. But there is another type of solitude, one that exists in the spiritual universe, one that allows us to approach the Mystery of Faith with others. This is not the solitude of being by myself but of the seeming contradiction of being with others in the presence of the heart of Christ. In Heaven, I suspect that there will be silence and solitude, but it will be in the midst of the Church Universal standing before the Throne of the Lamb at the Right Hand of the Father, giving eternal praise to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit now and forever,  The God who is, who was and who will be, now and forever. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology

These three dimensions of Cistercian spirituality help me to convert my life daily and move ever so slowly but relentlessly toward God, with His mercy.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: