I’ve come away to be alone with God on a 5-day silent prayer retreat at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert (MCD). Located in the high desert of northern New Mexico on the backside of the Santa Fe national Forest the MCD is the most remote monastery in the Western Hemisphere. The monks are friendly and eminently hospitable to the few souls who make their way here. The guest rooms are sparse but comfortable providing all that is necessary–protection from the harsh, high desert elements, a twin bed, a chair, a desk, and plenty of time alone with the Alone.
The Benedictine monks, as all Benedictines have for 1,500 years, live by the guideline of ora et labora, prayer and work, as set out by the apostle James in his New Testament book. They believe we can and should honor God with all our lives whether we are on our knees in prayer or praying as we work to provide our sustenance. After Terce and a simple breakfast the first morning I was assigned to pulling weeds from the guesthouse prayer garden as my work for the day. This was good for me, silently cleaning one little section then another as God continued to speak his word into my heart. Settling into the work Psalm 109:1 came to me as my breath prayer:
O God of my praise,
be not silent.
I prayed this simple request over and over in sync with my breathing adding others as they came to mind. O God of my praise, be not silent in my life, then in my fellow guests, in the monks who have so graciously received us, in my family, in XMA, in our world. We all so need your Voice in our lives.
The silence here is deafening. This has surprised me since I so enjoy and actively seek silence and solitude. But, it is deeper here, palpable. No road noise, no planes overhead, no equipment droning, no cell phones, TVs, radio, or people chatter. MCD is a stark reminder of our human limitations just as our distracted lives are attempts to deny them. To paraphrase Kathleen Norris, the silence here fills what Thoreau termed our “need to witness our limits transgressed.”
The only sound I heard while gardening other than my shoes crunching in the rocks was a few geese honking as they flew down the river. A humorous aside—as my Work Master monk was giving me my daily assignment he saw some of the geese flying in. Pausing to admire their graceful descent onto the river he commented that they were a new arrival to the valley then adding, “they only started coming about 25 years ago.” This reinforces something else Norris wrote in her book Dakota, “monks are accustomed to taking the long view, another countercultural stance in our fast-paced, anything for a buck society…”
I’ll admit this deep, pervasive silence and extended time alone with only God and my thoughts was at times a challenge even for a reclusive introvert like me. I’ve witnessed my limits transgressed and it was very, very good. God spoke through the silence confirming my call as his child, his servant, his friend.