This morning I was sorting through my computerized inventory of Ottilia Hall sinks and trying to complete the printing of “sinks for sale” signs for Saturday’s grand yard sale. The printer was humming, the phone ringing, the paper jamming, the ink cartridge expiring and all manner of things were hectic and noisy and going awry in the office. It was nearly time for Mass so I rushed upstairs to complete the final sacristy preparations. I strode up the steps, down the 2nd floor hallway, glanced quickly at the prayer board, and turned the knob on the chapel door.
The door opened onto a vast silence. About ten or so people were already gathered. Quietness permeated every molecule of air. Muted daylight filled the vaults and arches. No printers. No telephones. No rush. Just the breath of prayer and the Spirit of God resting together on the shores of silence. Even my reverent bow as I passed the altar seemed like too much noise within the canopy of quiet. I struck a match, lit a taper, and walked to light the candles – gently, so as not to disturb so serene a sea.
Here at Sacred Heart, we move somewhat seamlessly between our work and prayer. Regularly I transition from the Retreat Center office to the Divine Office, or as it happened today, from sinks to silence. Approaching our work with prayerful attention makes the transition from one form of prayer to another seem like second nature, as does the simple act of gathering for prayer. When the bell rings and we begin to make our way to chapel, we are already preparing our hearts to be united in prayer with one another and with the Church.
As monastics, and indeed, as Christians, we seek always to be at prayer – whether we are engaged in work, recreation, spiritual reading, communal prayer, or personal prayer. My hasty transition this morning – along with the more hectic than usual scenario in the office – resulted in a starker than usual transition between working at my desk and walking upstairs for Mass. And though I wish the office environment had been calmer, there was nevertheless a gift in the abrupt contrast. Spending as much time in the chapel as I do, I sometimes forget just how still it is, how silent the vaults, how rich the spectrum of light, how quiet a presence ten people can be… So what a gift it was this morning to turn the knob, open the door, and step gently onto the shores of silence.