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The Mystical Witness of Silence

Junaid Dawud

Colin O'Brien - published on 04/07/14

"I have a devotion to the voice of Jesus."

Those who have been trained for many years in this battle, such as the monks of New Melleray Abbey, exude a deep sense of this peace. They move and speak with a calm deliberation. Nothing is either rushed or unnecessary, such that when they speak, they have a tendency to speak plainly about matters of great importance that do not ordinarily come up in conversations out in the world, such as death. They also casually share the fruits of their spiritual lives in conversation.

During my most recent visit, I was invited to participate in a brief Bible study with the novices and two senior monks. We were discussing the Mass readings for the following day, and when it was his turn to share, Fr. Alberic said, "I have a devotion to the voice of Jesus. i try to imagine what it must have been like to hear him preach, to hear the sound of his voice."

This remark led me to think of all the times throughout the Gospels we read words such as "Jesus said to his disciples" or "Jesus said to the crowds." From there, I began to think of all the times throughout the Scriptures we encounter God speaking: from the burning bush to Moses, through the voices of the many prophets, through the Psalms, and in one of the most beautiful instances, in the still, small voice to Elijah. And so we see that God speaks to us, sometimes with a voice that shatters the cedars, or raises the dead, and other times in a whisper. In order to hear him, however, we must turn away from our distractions and defenses that we put up between ourselves and him.

Although we who live out in the world cannot keep the same schedule or observe silence in the same way as the Trappist monks do, we can use this time of Lent especially well by setting aside, to the best of our abilities in our particular circumstances, a period of daily silence to meditate, or to read Scripture, or simply to be still, listening ever for the voice of Jesus calling us to be close to him. It might be difficult or uncomfortable at first, but in time you, too, will come to find his peace.

Colin O’Briencurrently works in the Communications Department of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and has previously worked as a litigation paralegal in New York City. He completed a six-week observership with the Trappist community at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa in spring 2013, and is affiliated with the monastery as a layman through its Monastic Center program. He periodically updates his personal blog, "Fallen Sparrow," and also sings in his parish choir. Colin is a native of Minneapolis and studied philosophy at the University of Minnesota. He currently resides in the Washington, D.C. area.

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