It has been three months since I said farewell to social media, sans a quick break to introduce our sweet Charlotte to you.
Those three months-they have been enough. They have been enough to show me that I need more, which by writing you in simple words sounds selfish.
We want God to speak to us, so we become quiet. We wait until we hear whatever words we are supposed to hear. Sometimes those words are revealed quickly; often, they are shown to us letter by letter. And other times, the thing we hear is that we are to remain listening.
I returned to one of my favorite reads recently, Echoing Silence, by Merton. In this collection of letters and pages from his journals and books (collected and published posthumously), he walks through the tension of writing, his spirituality, suffering, ego, and vocation. Two passages in particular struck me:
“If the inspiration is helpless without a correspondingly effective technique, technique is barren without inspiration.” (October 24, 1958)
“The best thing for me is a lucid silence that does not even imagine it speaks to anybody. A silence which I see no interlocutor, frame no message for anyone, formulate no word either for man or paper. There will still be plenty to say when the time comes to write, and what is written will be simpler and more fruitful.” (December 14, 1949)
I am grateful for Merton’s removing himself from distractions and entering into a time of soul-silence. I doubt he knew or even wished that within his silence, he was communicating a message stronger than the power any written word could possibly create: an example.
(To note: most of his writings about entering into silence were in autumn and winter; perhaps it is designed in our warm blood to hibernate for a while.)
A scattered few friends of mine are taking brief vows of Internet silence. For some, it is the first time. For many, it won’t be the last. I have debated if these seasons of silence are a giving into self-indulgent isolation. After time and examination, please believe me that is not the case.
During his time at the monastery in Kentucky, Merton wrote letters to friends and spiritual counselors, politicians, and artists near and far. He went to Mass, he worked alongside fellow monks, took Eucharist, and kept mostly to the hours.
In the same manner, I tend to my private world of family and friends and community. Letters are shared between kindred spirits, encouraging one another in good works and glory. My days disappear into nights–and back again to dawn…to dusk…and so on–as I feel the grit in my spirit searching for an unfamiliar worship in the quotidian mysteries that occupy my time as of late.
It is hard. It is good.
I will not renounce ever returning to this space, just as Merton “refused and had practically ceased to desire” writing again, God “gave [him] back the vocation that [he] had half-consciously given up, and He opened to [him] again the doors that had fallen shut.” (1976)
But for now, may the only message I give you be one that I cannot speak or write.
May it be light, and only light.
Silentium coelorum sit mihi lex: et vita mea imago luminis.
(Let the silence of heaven be my law: and my life an image of light. – Merton, 1952)