On Silence

From The Rule of St. Benedict:

“Monastics ought to be zealous for silence at all times, but especially during the hours of the night” (RSB 42:1). Benedict goes on to say that upon leaving Compline, the last service of the day right before bedtime, no one should speak. Absolute silence is required. 

From Praying with Saint Benedict:

Years ago, I attended a men’s weekend retreat in Arizona. On the first night of the retreat, after the evening service, we were instructed to keep silence for the rest of the evening as we went to our dorm and prepared for bed. We followed those instructions and used gesture to communicate when we needed to as we made up our bunks, completed our evening ablutions, and undressed for bed. I remember how refreshing it seemed at the time not to have to make conversation with these men who were, as yet, strangers to me and to let the profound lessons and new insights from our evening service resonate within my head. I slept very well. 

Visiting the monastery, it is also meaningful to end the day with Compline (our “evening sacrifice”) and then return to my room in silence, letting the events of the day sink in. Silence is the profound gift of my time there. The daily offices and the silent times in between them give ample time for God to speak to the heart.

In the afternoon, I sometimes sit by the river, reveling in the silence. Literally all I can hear is the breeze, a cricket rhythmically chirping nearby, and the sound of a chatty magpie somewhere off in the distance. Simplicity and silence have great value, removing the distractions in life, making room for other things in one’s consciousness and spirit. 

From the hymn:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, And with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly-minded, for with blessing in his hand
Christ, our God, to earth descending,
comes our homage to command.

                        Gerard Moultrie (1864)

Published by Stephen Isaacson

Stephen Isaacson is Prior of the Cornerstone Community, a lay Benedictine group within Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. He has served in many other roles in the Cathedral and is currently the Co-coordinator of Outreach Ministries at the Cathedral. Prior to his involvement with Outreach or the Cornerstone Community, Steve was Professor of Special Education at Portland State University, where he also served as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Education. During his career in academia, he authored a number of juried publications and instructional materials.

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