Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal – Into the Fray

St Placid Priory, Lacey, Washington

Today, it occurs to me how blessed, perhaps even entitled, I am. Sitting here, in this idyllic environment, relatively free of care, well fed and clothed, in a little chapel associated with a Priory, having made my way here with someone else’s money in a new van paid for with our own money (well, theoretically), all to return – freely, and without fear of reprisal – to a local church that hired me and pays my wages.

Who gets to do such things other than the rich, and free? The power-brokers? Those who write the headlines and history books? These things become much clearer in the light of God whose heart beats wildly for the little ones. They also become easier to recall to one’s mind. To remember these basic things in order to bring proper perspective and sufficient context to my time here is now my task. 

Silence. Solitude. Journalling. Reading. Prayer and discernment. Although, these are presently my experience, to a lesser degree I anticipate this to be the case upon my return. It has been good. Very, very good. It has allowed me to slow down, attend the needs of my soul, and to avail myself of the riches of the Lover of my Soul.

As a result however, the greatest takeaway from my time here is this: I do best when staying actively involved in the vicissitudes of daily living, embodying truth. Not just thinking it. I must seek a deep, inner life as I’ve been doing, but one that leads to full engagement. I am not a person who is going to readily make the biggest discoveries from behind monastery walls. Start there? Absolutely. But the field of dreams for me will always be on the field, not in the dreams. It’s hands and feet and kinetic energy I require to keep my inner kingdom alive and growing.

Hence, it is now, as they say, “down to brass tacks.” While in the midst of discerning the movement of God within, weighing consolation with desolation in a balance (thank you Ignatius), this philosopher-poet, Enneagram 4 needs to get real, practical. Perhaps, while doing so, God can more easily steer this spiritual ship to new and expansive waters. The larger call and vocation upon my life will emerge more clearly in the minutiae of the face to face reparté of those who need what I’ve discovered here. It must be in goal-setting and the hazards of life-on-the-ground, where we all must live every day.

Gracious God of small things, help me see what I need to see, so I might become eyes to the blind, voice to the voiceless, and a support to the weary. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening…


St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal, part 2

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St Placid Priory, Lacey, WA

     It is a gift indeed to awaken to a cool, damp stillness, the air thick with green. A pervasive fog has sprawled itself over the lazy landscape, coating everything in the misty otherworldliness of coastal life. The air feels finished, like many of the best ingredients, absent in the Yakima dust, are present here. 

Dear God, how I’m made for this. My body feeds on its wealth. And my dry, wizened spirit is likewise, refreshed.

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Washington rainforest – healing happens here (and some great jogging)

     As I’ve mentioned, I am on a week-long preparation for a vocal procedure later this week that requires total vocal rest and copious amounts of Prednisone. This means of course that I get a robust two hours of sleep every night, during which time I’d prefer to be punching something than struggling to sleep. I guess I thought the nuns here able competitors should things go south. But, despite the raggedy experience of steroids, St. Placid is, if only for a few days, home. And here I can capitalize on the silence in pursuing the attentions and intentions of God. That, and nap, as things would have it.

      When one finally shuts up with words, other more prominent voices become clearer and more pervasive. And once pervasive, persuasive. Gone are the constant interplay of questions that never needed asking in the first place, now requiring answers. The small talk niceties that are social expectation more than interpersonal necessities. The interjections into conversations with your own, much better versions of things. Someone poses a query, whereupon you can sweep in with the most impressive tales of conquest and adventure, guaranteed to impress the room and justify your significance before all present (most of said adventures happened to someone else on your favourite YouTube channel anyway).

     Clear out the clutter and the soul perks up considerably. You begin to rediscover what’s truly precious and real. One’s deepest yearnings reappear in the absence of competition. My soul has much to say these days. And the heart settles into a calm stasis with the God who never left but whose mouth I’ve unwittingly clothes-pinned shut. “Lord, please don’t interrupt while I’m interrupting. It’s rude and I’ll get to you soon enough with my laundry list of requirements, otherwise called ‘prayer requests.’”

      I’m the undisputed champion of drifting in and out of crisis. And, I am again at a crossroads, the intersection of lost and found, good and great, ego and spirit. Historically, I don’t do well there. Knee-jerk reactions to the discomfort of unknowing, uncertainty, and discouragements have left me – and those around me – with many unnecessary scars.

     To be here is, if nothing else, a good jumping off point into the great Silence. Sometimes, just to be convinced anew of things I’ve always known, is enough to offer repose to a stormy heart. I can take myself alongside the likes of Job who didn’t rejoice because God had all the right answers to his every question. He rejoiced in the comfort of God’s presence made manifest after God’s long vacation. God showed up. The rest was icing.

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Road – the best metaphor

     But God did so much more. God helped Job to broaden and expand his horizons toward himself and the context in which he and his God could relate. In short, God annoyed Job with pages of gorgeous rhetoric. Answers came, first, in presence, and second, in better questions which invited him into a relationship of asking, seeking, knocking and, occasionally at least, weeping.

     “Don’t ask that,” God seems to say, “ask this instead.” And, in the process, Job’s little world so fraught by pain and despair is opened wide to see things far beyond his ken. There, he finds renewal, hope, and strength.

     Best of all, Job is justified by God in full view of his overly zealous, preachy friends. They typify those with nothing better to do than toss around Bible verses, which by the way, is the ideologue’s means of proving their own self-professed authority over things they only think they understand.

     God has placed Job in a spacious place and his friends, convinced of their own spaciousness, in their tiny one. Job’s world, now newly gargantuan, cosmic, and mystical, subsumes the quaintly rational question and answer, notebook faith so cherished by the faith police. Mystery brings with it the greatest gift of presence and comfort. Certainty brought table scraps – a soggy bag lunch to a tux ‘n tails banquet.

St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal

The next few blog entries are taken from my journal notes of last week’s sojourn at a Benedictine monastery.

*   *   *

Only the slightest whisper of a breeze caresses the ferns outside my window. Although barely 4:30 in the afternoon, the slanted, abstruse light lends a touch of whimsy to the failing day. Evening begins poking her nose around, making her presence known in a clear air, embroidered in light green leaves.

Here in this place I will spend the next three days in silence and contemplation. St Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington. My intentions are simple – complete silence, largely in preparation for a vocal procedure on Thursday morning. But, coincidentally, serendipitously, providentially, I avail myself of this calm serenity at a Benedictine place for prayer, discernment and listening.

To silence the tongue from speaking is in great measure to silence the mind from fretting, the heart from hunting, the brow from frowning, the soul from hungering. It is genuinely remarkable the amount of stress one accumulates through constant chatter. I use words in a thousand ways I never even consider until they’re removed from my agenda. Then, I see just how often words take their place among a virtual hierarchy of internal chaos. I use them to hide both from others and from myself. I use them to impress, to seek validation, to reveal my devastating charm, my stunning facility with any imaginable topic with which I am, of course, an expert. I use words to create pictures of how I want people to see me; how I choose to see myself and the world around me.

James, a New Testament writer of the letter that bears his name tells us how the tongue is a serpent and a raging fire, ever full of destruction. He suggests that it acts as a very small rudder to a very big ship. As is generally attributed to Abba Arsenius, “Oft have I been made the fool having spoken. Never have I been made a fool having remained silent.”

So, speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

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A great place for listening (food’s not bad, too!)

Silence of the Fall

Around this time last year, I took time for spiritual refreshment in Ocean Shores. What follows are a few of my thoughts on that time away…

It is surprising just how many toxins build up in our spirits when we neglect regular periods for silence, solitude and spiritual refreshment. What an affront to our self-referentialism to discover that the world has gotten along famously without our invaluable contributions. Nevertheless, it remains an immensely challenging undertaking to willingly disengage for a few days in order to re-engage the deeper things – God and those archetypal realities of our meager existence.

My house stands in need of significant repair, my wife deserves my attention, my sons need a father and my employer needs me to make the trains run on time. To retreat from our responsibilities requires our brazen intention to be vulnerable before God with no guarantee of visible returns on the investment of time.

Be that as it may, I took three days last week in Ocean Shores to enjoy silence, contemplation, reading, writing and sleep; not necessarily in that order! It’s enlightening how a good, long drive is always like Drano to a clogged soul or foggy mind. I guess that’s why there are so many good road trip stories. Few things are so fast acting in ironing smooth the unsightly spiritual wrinkles that beset us. And, for me, there is absolutely no better time to do so than the fall. Everything feels different in the fall. There is a hesitancy about the passing hours that seems somehow not so…insistent. The world is not so in-your-face cheery and the sunlight’s less gaudy rays lie slanted on blushing trees, caressing the sadder sky in reassuring gestures that although winter is crouched and ready, she too, must pass like autumn before her.

Pursuing silence in the fall has always offered far more treasures for mystics like me. I am reminded of a line from a Chris de Burgh song, “there’s nothing quite like an out of season holiday town in the rain.” Amen to that. Take away the touristy stores full of shiny, campy bobbles attractive only to our covetous need for yet more worthless shit and we’re given permission to exhale.

Our need for silence mirrors Jesus’ similar need. It’s instructive to see the unabashed willingness of Jesus to turn his back on the madding crowd and escape to the hills under cover of night to meet his Father. He understood his own personal rhythms well and could thus obtain maximum benefit from such times of solitude. From there he changed the world. It is just that self-awareness for which I yearn. In such times an unseen door opens that invites us to see what God sees – and what God sees is remarkable…

Thanks to Lois Keffer for the use of your awesome Photoshop pic!