I have spoken many, many times in these posts about how one must seek personal holiness and private communion with Christ. I have often said that the Source of Wisdom is to be found in the silent listening of one's heart. My posts "Servant" and "Dumb Ox" are only two of the many in which I have discussed this. And yet, I have never touched specifically on the reason for silence in the cloister. If my readers are young and searching for their vocation, it is possibly silence which will, before all else, cause them to think their vocation is not for the cloister.
One of my absolute favorite books is "The Challenge of Silence" by Anselm Grun, O.S.B. In it is discussed the nature and beauty of silence. Silence is not a lack of speaking... it is speaking only good words.
I am a writer, and those who know me personally know I am also a very avid talker. Communication has become a central part of my life. But, if one false word escapes my my lips, or one dirty word leaves my tongue, I burn with shame. I cannot bear that anything, ANYTHING I say should bring others pain or discontent. No matter how trivial they may be, I want my words to be the tool of the Holy Spirit... how could I offer Him one that is broken or unclean? Truly, I see silence as a perfection of my words.
My communication belongs first and foremost to God. Every word I pronounce is for Him. Therefore, is it not fitting that I should wish to spend hours in holy silence communing with Him? Is it not natural that I do this so that my every word may be beautiful and pure? If my written words are reinforced by silence of mind and heart, if my prayer is reinforced by the ability to contemplate without interior chaos, and if my spoken words are reinforced my meditative thought, then my every word will echo His goodness. If I am first holy inside, then all that proceeds from my mouth will also be holy and good.
Indeed, silence is NOT a lack of words... it is a perfection of speaking. It is a guard against the evils produced by the tongue, and a purifying fire that strengthens this holy tool. If we do not have interior silence, we cannot find wisdom.
I refer to silence so often as "interior silence". Why? It is because true silence is not simply a refrain from speaking. If you sit in silence for a time... what goes through your mind? Is your mind silent? True silence is the silence of mind and heart. In my current way of life, silence of mind and heart in speaking is nearly impossible to imagine. When I go to sleep at night, there is a constant speaking, a constant nagging in my mind, unless I quiet them through "dreams" or "soft prayer". As I kneel in prayer, there are WORDS in my mind. The only silence I can achieve is to repeat in my mind some beautiful, musical line of love until my mind is quieted from all else. This is not real silence. Silence is to be able to commune without words. If one has achieved holy silence, he is not nagged by words and confusion. His thoughts are secure and quiet.
This is precisely the silence sought in monasteries. It is the ability to commune without communication. It is the ability to listen, to understand, without speaking, both in prayer and in conversation with others. It is faith that overrides worry... and it is peace. Our racing hearts and minds are like restless seas... and we must allow Jesus to calm them. It is then, and only then, that our words can be pure and holy.