Underneath all the texts, all the sacred psalms and canticles, these watery varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb, and flow of the music that sings in me. My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.
—attributed to St. Hildegard of Bingen
This is an exciting year for those of us who love this fiery, powerful medieval Abbess. She was finally canonized by the Catholic church on May 10th and on October 7th will be made a Doctor of the Church (one of only four women with this title) and certainly fitting for the amazing depth and breadth of wisdom she offers. I fell in love with Hildegard while in graduate school, and consider her my doorway into Benedictine and monastic life. (Here is a link to a previous article at the Abbey on her. I will be in Ireland next weekend presenting as part of a celebration for her.) For me she is the exemplar of being both monk and artist, of allowing her flourishing creativity to emerge from the place of contemplative stillness. She is really the unofficial patron saint of Abbey of the Arts (something I should perhaps make official soon!)
This month at Abbey of the Arts our theme is silence inspired by the first principle of the Monk Manifesto: “I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.”
We began our exploration last week with a Photo Party inspired by silence, and the images shared were spectacular. I selected several of the images to create a video meditation as a gift to you, dear monk friends. You can view it here. Give yourself the gift of a five-minute pause today and soak in the grace of silence.
Silence is the first principle because I believe that everything else flows from this place which is not an absence of sound, but presence to something wiser, deeper, more grace-filled.
Our theme this month has inspired me to deepen my morning practice of sitting in silence, to extend my time given over to the great Source of life’s music as Hildegard writes. In that space I am also experiencing silence as my deepest nature and home. When I cultivate this practice of silence each day, I discover more moments of silence throughout the unfolding of my life. When I make time to seek out silence, I find that more and more silence comes to seek me when I don’t expect it.
Last weekend, my beloved and I took a marvelous hike in the Vienna woods. I find the silence of nature brings its own kind of healing and revelation. We hiked to a wide, grassy field that looked out over the city of Vienna in the distance. We sat there for a long time in the silence together. Grateful for being with one another, savoring the experience of sinking into the moment. Something about gazing over a wide vista makes my own heart feel expansive. After some time we began to share the dreams just beginning to be birthed from our time living abroad. They are like fragile, tender buds, and there is so much we don’t know about how we are being called forward from this experience, but out of the silence and the vastness of sky before us, we could begin to feel into the shape of things to come.
I have come to recognize that my call right now is to rest in the radical uncertainty of my life, an often uncomfortable place to be. So often I want to make plans for the future, but we do not know what comes next. Only by showing up moment by moment will we discover what beckons to us. Only be being present to the “terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating . . .pulse, ebb, and flow of the music that sings in me” will I discover my soul’s song. It will be out of the great mystery of silence that the shape of things to come will emerge. Silence is the great teacher of mystery, of resting into unknowing.
*icon of St. Hildegard from Our Lady of Kazan Monastery