A down to earth stars-war takes place once a year, for a week, a top of Mt. Kobau, when the Canadian government opens the access road to the general public. On the one side, the unwelcoming ranchers herd their cows over the contested fields so as to mine the sacred laying grounds ahead of time. Bulls might be let loose. And Mother Nature throws in the added danger of rattlesnakes.
On the other side, a group of intrepid eschewers of ordinary light storm the heights anyhow. At 6000 feet and far from city lights, it provides an optimum light-pollution free atmosphere for amateur astronomers.
Bill was the first of my clan to number among the starry-eyed knights, though it wasn’t hard for him to entice along my cousin and her husband, three more brothers as well as Mom and Dad. – It helps that Ted hosts my parents in his roomy RV and plies them with what Dad calls gourmet food.- There’s just one brother left who holds back from joining the forces. Nothing to do with the perils. He’s just not partial to the regulations.
The folks up there respect their self-imposed rules: avoid using any white light, including flashlights or headlights of cars and speak in low tones. The idea of keeping quiet seems commensurate with their contemplative activity of drinking in a heavenly view.
There’s something analogous about this hushed star-gazing on the mountain top and silence in the consecrated life. Our lives are dedicated to “seeking God’s face”, who is the very “light of the world”. He dwells in inaccessible light, which is invisible and interior, but no less real. Discerning these precious rays calls for much more than avoiding exterior “light pollution”. It requires an interior disposition of setting aside the desire for legitimate goods, for the sake of being filled by a much greater good: Goodness itself. Purification of the soul is called for: “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God”.
In her diary Saint Faustina said “In order to hear the voice of God, one has to have silence in one’s soul and to keep silence; not a gloomy silence, but an interior silence; that is to say, recollection in God.”
When we first set out in the consecrated life, the silence we practice can be costly. In our centers we avoid talking in hallways out of respect for the interior conversations of the others. After night prayers up until morning Mass, we keep “the great silence” (as called in convents), or as we say, “absolute silence”, so that we can cultivate being in the presence of God during those particularly recollected moments of the day. We speak during our periods of conversation and keep a “relative silence” during our times of study and deskwork. (Obviously we talk during apostolic activities.) It doesn’t take long to appreciate how helpful this effort at maintaining an exterior silence can be, towards achieving an interior silence. For it’s only with the aid of external silence that we realize our internal foggy condition.
Inside our conscience can be setting off alarms about our actions not being quite in order. Our passions could be roaring in anger or groaning in sadness or trembling with fear. Our memory could be conjuring up all sorts of recollections from the past, some helpful some not. Our imagination could be going wild with fantasies. Our thoughts could be full of superficiality and vanity. Our heart could be desiring goods that don’t match our condition as sons and daughters of God, or as consecrated persons. Our intentions that provide the motivation for our actions could be self-centered instead of seeking the glory of God and the salvation of souls in all that we do. All of that “internal light pollution” keeps us from being able to see God.
Those who have consecrated their lives to God are not the only ones who need periods of exterior silence. Christ’s greatest commandment of loving God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength applies to everyone. That requires setting our interior life in order. Putting Him and his things first, and subordinating the rest. Quiet, dispassionate discernment is desirable for readjusting the course of our lives.
Even for mere self-knowledge we need a certain degree of interiority that comes through silence and reflection. Not much room for that in today’s world. During her after-the-show interview with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Oprah Winfrey spoke with them about silence. At one point she observed thoughtfully: “We’re raising another generation of people completely disconnected from themselves.”
Pope Benedict XVI commented on the importance of silence in praising St. Peter Celestine: “Silence thus became the element that characterized his daily life. And it is precisely in external silence, but above all in internal silence, that he succeeded in perceiving God’s voice, a voice that was able to guide his life. Here is a first aspect that is important for us: We live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be ‘filled’ with initiatives, activity, sound; often there is not even time to listen and dialogue. Dear brothers and sisters! Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God’s voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others.” (Zenit.org, July 4, 2010)
I’m struck at how often people comment on the peace they perceive in our center so soon after they’ve come through the front door for the first time. It helps that the Blessed Sacrament, exposed every day, is visible from the entrance hall. But it also helps that the people dwelling here are striving to live in the presence of God and thus keep the mountain top etiquette.
That one brother of mine may never ascend Mt. Kobau. At least a clear night provides him with a taste of what he’s missing. On the other hand, I feel for those who have never tasted interior peace and silence. It requires a hefty climb, but the view is worth it!
(NOTE: Photography by Bill Kingsland)