The request to embrace and live in silence is consistent throughout the Rule, whether this invitation is spoken or unspoken. It is faithful to the nature of silence that the request for silence not be regularly spoken. A community of silence allows silence to ‘speak’ and instruct through their ‘lifestyle of silence’. Words are only needed when necessary.
The chapter speaks of Compline. Compline is simply night prayer. Like all Christian monastic prayer, it is based around the saying of psalms and some Christian (or New Testament) scripture. Typically this prayer is completed in the mid evening. Vespers, the prayer before compline, concludes late afternoon.
Chapter 42 uses words in its emphasis on silence. Here the words are needed because they instruct us in a way to live into a night that reverences the silence of the night. At night life pauses; the activity of the day stops. At night stillness rises with its invitation to embrace the external silence. Within this experience of external silence we can experience the nature of our internal silence.
Monastics should diligently cultivate silence at all times, but especially at night. (The Rule of St. Benedict in English)
Boniface Verheyen translates ‘diligently cultivate silence’ as ‘always be given to silence’ (The Holy Rule of Our Most Holy Father Benedict). This request is not just for monastics, be they monks or oblates. The value of silence is something known to people of all faiths or of no faith who somehow cherish the contemplative roots of humanity.
To be attentive and consistent in the promotion and growth of silence in one’s life is to give our lives to silence. We do this because, as many have noted before us, silence is the language of God. Within stillness and silence divinity has its Being. Within stillness and silence we experience our being in this divinity. Silence embraces us into life. In silence we encounter a rock-like inner stability that nothing and no-one else in life can provide. Silence is essential to our being and life. Without it we fray. Without it we harden. Without it we are unbalanced. Without it we cannot know the ways God moves in life.
So when silence is uncovered at night Benedict is eager that we not miss the opportunity to experience it and to test where our internal life is in relation to it.
Benedict asks that the evenings not have us over-stimulated. At Meditatio House our common meal is during the day. This leaves the evening free of the need to prepare and eat a common meal. After our evening prayer and meditation the house can rest. At this time silence can be noticed and lived. There are distractions of course. We may not have a television, however in this time of YouTube and tablet TV sensory stimulation can still unsettle the mind. In the consistency of our communal routine the invitation to grow in resonance with the stillness and silence of the night is still there. All we need do is notice it.
Meditation, as part of the tools for a contemplative life, is all about cultivating silence – inner and outer. A commitment to the mantra is a commitment to the giving of our lives to silence. With love the mantra becomes an agent of the transition of our interiority into silence. We cannot make inner silence grow. It is already there. We simply allow divine love to cultivate our attention in it. Our attention grows in the silence like an oak tree growing in good soil. Contemplative attention grows in silence. A contemplative house, where ever it is found, must somehow serve this growth.
Where is silence in our lives? Do we value it? Are we secretly afraid of it? How often is the TV on? Is the radio the ‘muzak’ of our lives, always on in the background? How often are our ears free of headphones and earbuds? How often do we simply not speak? Often noise and sound is there to distract us from inner pain, our suffering. It’s like we self-medicate with sound and noise. This can only do us so much good. Silence is the inner reality in which our healing happens. In silence the God of silence frees us for life.