The other day a friend from Canada sent our Catholic writers’ group a link for an article about a book, Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, and a Living Faith.
This isn’t a review because I haven’t yet picked up the book — though I very much hope to soon. Maybe it’s another Lenten read?
I received the link on a busy day but something about the title caught me, so I began reading the review. Ah, it’s about monasteries and the draw of them. Immediately I’m hooked. Having had the blessing of getting to know two monasteries so far in my life, I can’t help but be alert.
I know the safe harbor they provide for the weary soul. There are few things in life as lovely as having the space and place to commune with God in this way.
Through both, in different seasons of my life, I’ve rediscovered the quiet voice within and come out of the experience all the richer — fortified, ready to resume the ardors and joys of everyday life.
So I couldn’t help but be moved by this paragraph of the review:
“Valente arrives at the monastery beleaguered, anxious and exhausted. She is immediately startled by the saturating silence that surrounds her. As the alchemy of silence begins to transform, she discovers how the monastic day, regulated as it is by the chanting of the Hours, gives context and form to community life. Prayer becomes not some separate activity, but the day itself. She resonates with the alternating rhythms of work and leisure, the attention to detail and beauty, the care of each person, and the concern for the world beyond the monastery’s walls. She encounters women who find meaning and zest in life, who form lifelong friendships, who are humble and filled with gratitude, and who have no fear of death. She is stunned by the conundrum that it is precisely their restriction that offers them great freedom.”
Mid-paragraph I am seized by familiarity: “Prayer becomes not some separate activity, but the day itself.”
This has been my experience during my monastery stays. I’ve mentioned it here before, and to others at other times, that in recent visits especially it’s hit me later, or sometimes during, that rather than setting aside time as I thought I would have for intimate conversations with God, I have found those intimate conversations happen moment by moment as I breathe in the blessing of the sacred spaces and stillness. When I am there, my whole body feels restful, and in sustained fashion, this is such a healing thing.
I’ve noticed this too: that at Mass at the monastery, everything is slower — the words, the songs. When returning after a visit to my home parish filled with its families and another kind of vibrancy, I can’t help but feel that everything is a bit rushed. “What’s the hurry?” I think, having become accustomed to and immersed in something less harried.
From my perspective, the reviewer accomplished what she set out to do. This paragraph was a description in many ways of my own experience, and for that reason I must read this book. Because I am going to assume that if one line from a review can resonate so powerfully within me, there will be more of those nuggets within.
And as Heather King, memorist and modern-day mystic, said last month in her blog, Shirt of Flame, “I read for the emotion, the feel, the sense of other possibilities. That click of, ‘Someone got it right. Someone described how I have felt, but never been able to articulate,’ or posed the question I’ve been posing all my life without even knowing I was posing it! Or someone told a story that is completely different from my story and yet, amazingly, gloriously, is in some way the same as my story.”
I’m assuming, however, that you don’t need monastery experience to get something out of the read; that this book will satisfy the promptings of anyone who has ever desired visiting such a place. This may be your introduction, your peek inside, and that’s a good first step.
Q4U: Have you ever experienced a day or portion of a day when prayer became the day itself?
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Copyright 2014, Roxane Salonen