Silence and Heartfelt Prayer

Walk into the monastic church some early morning before Lauds. In the pre-dawn light you will probably see a monk kneeling in the choir stall beside the organ. He is silent and perfectly still. If you are a newcomer to monastic life you might be puzzled when you learn he has already been there for thirty minutes. “What is he doing?” you ask yourself. He is praying.

Saint Benedict probably noticed monks doing this and so he put it in his Rule: if someone wants to pray, let him simply go into church and pray. That monk you see is simply praying. Simple prayer. When a monk prays like this he is stretching out his heart. This kind of silent, wordless prayer, is a response in faith to God who loved us first. It is the prayer too deep for words that Saint Paul talks about (Rom 8:26). As Saint Antony of the Desert taught, “That is not the perfect prayer wherein the monk understands himself or what he is praying.”

You will soon learn that we monks of New Melleray love silence as the environment of a life hidden in Christ. As our Order’s Constitutions say, silence fosters mindfulness of God and fraternal communion. Silence favors attentiveness of heart and solitary prayer. Living in Christ, we are content to be led by him, like Peter whom Christ told simply to stretch out his hands (see John 21:18).

Paradoxically, this road to simplicity in silence can be painful because we ourselves are fragmented. In time, though, this simple, silent prayer of intense desire restores our integrity. We begin to see as God sees and so are restored to communion with God, with our brothers, and with all creation.