From Saint Joseph’s Abbey 1963-68
Whatever did I use to do on Sunday afternoons in the world? There used to be a song I loved from the “Flower Drum Song”... I believe it went:
“Sunday, sweet Sunday, with nothing to do;
Sunday, sweet Sunday, my one day with you.
Lazy, and lovey, we drift through the day,
Dreaming.. the hours.. away...”
I still daydream a lot, a lot more than I should probably, but much of it is helpful now- although I could be kidding myself in this. I’ve been in the monastic life now for over 4 years and one of my favorite activities is to leave the church after None and walk out into the woods and up the hills and get to the most silent and solitary place, sit down and read a little, pray a little, doze a little and... fall awake a lot.
In the silence of the woods, the sound of the woods can be heard. All the noise in my head filters out, the noise of my fears, the noise of my plans and thoughts, the noise of my memories - and slowly has its place taken by the noise of the present moment, the noise of the light breeze rustling the dry grass and brown leaves, the noise of a scurrying chipmunk, and of a distant mower... and the noise of silence.
It was on such a day in December last year, that I was sitting on a stool- made by some forgotten monk- at the base of a huge pine. There was snow in the air, and I was wearing an extra warm winter coat from the pile made available in the wardrobe. My eyes were closed - I had been both meditating and sleeping, for me both are equally rewarding - when a loud sneeze sounded nearby. Before opening my eyes, I distinctly remember saying to myself, “Oh damn, another monk! Now I’m going to waste 15 minutes making useless signs to him about trivia!” So much for fraternal charity.
I opened my eyes.
Not fifteen feet away from me stood the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Somehow, without a sound, a deer, a male deer with a full head of antlers had entered my silent space and stood there looking at me with my intensity but with none of my fear. I was obviously an object of curiosity to him and I immediately knew that silence was the attraction.
We looked at each other for a full two minutes. He gently snorted, and pawed once in the pine needles, turned and was gone.
The moment we shared will be present to me in total clarity all the days I live. I often think of how a hunter would have mounted that 15-pt head over his fire place to remember that event. To me it is a sin to even think of doing such a thing. That most beautiful living animal and I had a shared moment, one like no other I have ever had. It is the livingness of it that makes it so wonderful.
How unprepared I was for such an event - and yet, it is silence that prepares us so well for such a happening. Why does it take so long for any of us to learn to be silent. To learn to open our eyes, to learn to open our minds, to learn to open our hearts - is this not the reason for us existing at all.
As Father Henry’s, and my, favorite girlfriend Emily has said so well:
“A little madness in the Spring
is wholesome even for the King.
But God be with that clown
who surveys that scene
That whole experiment in Green
as if it were his own.”
Charlie Mc (1967)