I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of escaping periodically to a simple cabin on an island by a warm-water sea. I’ve daydreamed of timeless days, except for sounds of distant gulls, and the rhythmic cadence of crashing waves, of thirst quenching, salty silence. I’ve imagined reading when I felt like it, writing when inspired, and aimless walks barefoot on sandy shores, sandpipers walking fast like ladies on the way to the theater.
I imagine each sea scent breath bringing God’s gentle love, and my journal and pen sitting waiting on a simple nightstand, a grand ebony night bursting with stars.
Some have realized this dream, it’s more possible for some than others. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, fortunate to escape to a place by the sea, wrote the classic, Gift of the Sea. Regardless of whether we experience an actual retreat, she says, “Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.”
We’re often run ragged, spread thin, compromised, our callings buried beneath self-imposed demands, care-giving, low-self esteem, or even fear. We yearn for solitude to sort it all out and space to think. Yet, we have this chance for renewal and solitude every morning if we seek quiet prayer time. Even though we’re given the gift of free will to return to God each day for such restoration, we shun it, suffocating the better option with food, busyness and work. Or our plate is simply too full as we juggle our children’s needs, housework, finishing taxes and crossing out another item on the “to-do” agenda.
When our true self finally screams out from the cellar for attention, and thank God it does, we realize our Sunday church going isn’t adequate for spiritual nourishment. We need and want the full shebang. We want to return to the full mystery of God. We thirst for lives full with of God’s supernatural love, peace, joy, authenticity and radical renewal. We long for the mystery of God filling our souls with truth that satisfies. It doesn’t surprise me that return is mentioned over seven hundred times in the Bible as part of the human story. Women like us need to return to the fullness of God or risk burying our true selves, letting anxieties triumph.
How sometimes we just need a room of our own! Images of island escapes and cabins in the woods rise from horizons beyond our cluttered landscapes filled with piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and full calendars.
Hildegard von Bingen said if we want the mystery of God revealed to us, “we have to find modern ways to relate to the opening of those spiritual senses, we have to find contemporary ways to holiness, ways that are not confined to life in the cloister, ways that let us seek God right in the depths of everyday life, right in the depth of creation and history, right in the depth of scripture”.
Catherine Doherty wrote a modern spiritual classic, Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer. A poustinia, having it’s roots in the Russian word for desert, is a small room or cabin where we meet God in silence who dwells within. She says a poustinia is a lonely place that souls sometimes have to enter, to find the God who dwells within them.
However, Ms. Doherty also wrote about an ‘inner poustinia of the heart‘, a quiet place within each of us we take everywhere. Whether we’re in the desert or city, in conflict or peace, in a time of weakness or strength, we return within for communion with God. In essence, as we attune to silence as a practice, Brother Laurence says “we create a chapel in our own hearts where we may escape from time to time” where we talk to God. But from my experience, this takes practice, of finding quiet rooms and spaces, even if it’s in a corner of our bed with a cup of tea where we meet God daily.
As Jesus says, “whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door”. Or we make our lives a prayer by praying meditating and contemplating God’s word in the kitchen, while exercising, and driving. We can even enter quiet places by listening more and talking less. When I aim to listen to my spouse, my friend, my co-worker, when I focus deeply on their words and the meaning behind their sharing, I also give room for God in the exchange, deepening the meaning of these relationships, allowing the rooting of God dwelling in my heart.
Yes, we must find modern ways in this busy world to return, making our tea time sacred, our meals a reflection of thanks, lighting a candle and taking a warm bath, unplugging, moving the phones from our bedside, far from our journals. It means carving out time on that busy calendar to play the piano, paint that picture even if it means sitting in a park with paint and canvas, or going to the local library to write. If going to the seaside or cabin in the mountains is impossible, we practice the presence of God in our days, weaving within our souls, an untouchable place of our own, a place to return everyday, where the mystery of God dwells, untouched, even if it’s means locking our bedroom doors with a sign that says, ‘my sacred time and space, do not enter’.
I weave a silence on my lips,
I weave a silence into my mind
I weave a silence within my heart
I close my ears to distractions
I close my eyes to attractions.
I close my heart to temptations.
Calm me as You stilled the storm
Still me, keep me from harm
Let all the tumult within me cease
Enfold me, Beloved, in your peace.
-The Edge of Glory- David Adam
Is there enough Silence for the Word to be heard?
– T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday