This past weekend was a deep dive into the main themes of Christian spirituality, with a particular focus on contemplative prayer and lectio divina. Our instructor had us read Into the Silent Land by Father Martin Laird, and what a beautiful little book it is. I'm nearly finished with St. Gregory's Book of Pastoral Rule. I will be spending a portion of my ongoing time off working on a paper before pivoting to the predatory reading on next month's class on the sacred liturgy - Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy, Martimort's The Church at Prayer, a grab bag of General Instructions, and assorted other miscellanies.
The materials for this past weekend, however, encouraged my ongoing interest in the desert fathers, so I've got the first volume of The Philokalia sitting in front of me along with a small collection of Evagrius (The Pratikos & Chapters on Prayer). Father Laird's book comes at an opportune time for me, and I've already begun to put some of its practices to work in my daily prayer and meditation. He posits a stunning notion, perhaps to the world, even scandalous: we cannot be separated from God even if we try. He is the very ground of our being, and the illusion that we can part ways from Him results from the noise and distraction with which we fill our minds. Sin can cloud this even further, but our very being is fundamentally and teleologically ordered towards union with Him, no matter how much we believe to the contrary.
It is difficult - maybe impossible - to realize this in the noise of the modern world. None of this is new - the fathers who fled to the desert sought the silence there for the same reasons. Perhaps uniquely, we have created the option of total distraction at every moment - a fountain of image and noise that knows no bottom or end. We must, in every moment we can, steal moments of quiet. If we can find a quiet place, this is good, but this is not enough, for this silence is only exterior. We must seek for silence within us - the silent land which is our birthright. This is difficult, and we have not done ourselves any favors in this respect. But it is there and has been waiting for us from the beginning of our being. It is for us to reclaim it, to grope our way to it, and to rest there again. This is the place where we can hear Him.
How many of us long for the silence of the desert? Or the peace of the woods? We may be fortunate enough to find ourselves near these places and seek refuge in them, but there is a silence that waits within us, beyond the clamor of our thoughts, fears, and cares.