Silence and stillness and stuff

When I read this verse “He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic…'” (Luke 9:3) I think I’m doing retreats entirely wrong. I take a lot of “stuff” so I won’t get bored. Perhaps it isn’t the silence that is the issue – but the fear of really being alone with God. Making art, writing, reading books – all of that can be noise. Maybe “silence” for me is more about “stillness”.

rock 5

The rock garden at St. Meinrad used to be my favorite place. Now it is full of “stuff”

I feel that the garden needs some editing. Like the “stuff” needs to be rotated out, like an art display. How much is “whimsy” and how much is “crazy”?

Yes – you need to slow down and really look here. That is part of the point. To get you to see things that are small or hidden.

You will never see this rock unless you crouch down.  It is at most five inches high.

rock 2

How are you to hear God’s voice amidst a lot of noise?  Noise isn’t just sound – it can also be visual clutter, or too many things to do.

rock 1

God didn’t start speaking to Moses from the bush until Moses stopped – turned around – and came back to look at it. He almost walked by. He almost didn’t get the order to lead Israel out of slavery.  What are we missing being freed from – and leading others out of their slavery (to false gods, to addiction, to worry) by failing to take the time to really notice God’s messages to us?

This was in another courtyard, but I have seen the same thing in the rock garden.

This is a daylily –

rock 6

While this is a seed pod – brown and decaying.

rock 7

There is a lot of this decay in the garden.  And yet – this is beautiful.  I’d never see this shape if it had been taken away in a need to keep everything tidy.  Sometimes “clutter” is helpful.


Nativity set at Mercy Convent

Mercy nativity 1-9-16

I learned that the Catholic Church observes the season of Christmas until they celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, which this year is 1/10/16. This meant that the really nice Nativity set was still up in the chapel when I went on retreat from 1/8 – 1/9. There are real evergreens behind the creche. They are about 8 feet tall and smell amazing. The creche is on a table that is about three feet off the ground, and it is about five feet wide. The tallest figurine is about a foot high. Everybody is here – it is a packed scene! They have seven pots of poinsettias decorating the front.

I enjoyed sketching it in the chapel and then watercoloring it in my room. Ideally I’d watercolor it on site but the nuns were setting up for Mass so I felt I’d be more comfortable doing the messy bit without an audience.

Plus, I still can’t take Communion because of their (The Church’s) rules.
Again, not that Jesus made those rules…

I’m not sad/angry/upset about it because I feel I’m missing out – it is because they are. To exclude anyone is to be the exact opposite of what Jesus wanted. I pray that the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to the un-welcoming nature of a policy that says only Catholics can take communion.

Mercy nativity1

Mercy nativity 2

(edit 2-28-16, I decided to add more pictures that I’d taken)

Quotes about silence and solitude

“But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” – Alan Watts

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary seabird that opens its wings on the steak. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” – Virginia Woolf

“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; and when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound becomes diversion and a pastime.” – Kahlil Gibran

“All the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their chamber.” – Blaise Pascal

“You rest now. Rest for longer than you are used to resting. Make a stillness around you, a field of peace. Your best work, the best time of your life will grow out of this peace.” – Peter Heller

“There is a loneliness more precious than life. There is a freedom more precious than the world. Infinitely more precious than life and the world is that moment when one is alone with God.” – Rumi

“While I am looking for something large, bright, and unmistakably holy, God slips something small, dark, and apparently negligible in my pocket. How many other treasures have I walked right by because they did not meet my standards?” – Barbara Brown Taylor

“Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” – Rumi

“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days.” – Hafiz

“Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise.” – Richard Rohr

“Silence is precious; by keeping silence and knowing how to listen to God, the soul grows in wisdom and God teaches it what it cannot learn from men.” – Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew

The red doors of St. Meinrad’s Archabbey

Red is a common color for doors in liturgical Christian churches. It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the fire and spark of God that animates all things. Interestingly, red is also the color that Tibetan Buddhists use to mark its buildings that have a statue of Buddha in it, as well as the color of the robes for their monks – for the very same reason. Red is a symbol of the Divine presence within. Red is also the color of Torii gates in the Shinto faith tradition. They are used to mark spiritual gateways, to indicate that beyond them is a holy place. It can also be described as being a visible symbol of the Presence of God, or as Jews would say, the Shekinah.

These were taken late September 2015 in St. Meinrad, Indiana, at the Archabbey and the seminary.






The front of the Archabbey with the three sets of red doors.

A closeup of the Yale lock on one of those doors, with the red paint better visible.

The cemetery at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey

November first is an appropriate day to share these pictures. Today is All Saint’s Day, where all the famous Christians who have died are remembered. These are notable people who have led the way and been examples of being the Body of Christ – of making love visible in the world. November 2nd is All Soul’s Day, where everyone else – family members and friends, for instance, who have lived honorable lives are remembered.

These pictures were taken in late September at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey (Benedictine monastery) in St. Meinrad, Indiana. This is the cemetery for the monks. The cemetery is slightly downhill from the seminary, and the headstones are made of the same local rock that the Abbey itself is built out of. They are very stout.



The 5 former abbots are buried in the walkway. The first abbot was buried elsewhere and then relocated here.


A newer grave, showing the same color of rock as the Abbey. The older ones have weathered to a grey.

Even though they do not decorate graves, someone has practiced the Jewish custom of leaving a stone atop the headstone as a way of marking that they have visited it.

Quite atmospheric in the late Autumn sun.

There was a new grave – for Brother Benedict Barthel, born 1919, died September 15th, 2015. His birth name was Carl Frank.

The graveyard is walled, so it is limited as to how many more brothers can be buried here. There are only 42 spaces left. There are 252 monks already buried here. There are seven rows deep on two sides, with 21 columns.

Pictures from St. Meinrad’s monastery – the Abbey. September 2015

Outside. Looks like Hogwarts. The building to the right is the seminary.
Abbey outside<a>

Stained glass inside. The tree with the forbidden fruit becomes the cross that Jesus is crucified on in atonement for our sins.

The altar, set out in the middle, amongst the people, rather than far away and separate from them. Note the two large candle holders. Two candles represent the Old Testament and the Gospels – and are also reminiscent of the two candles used at the head and foot of a dead body lying in state.

Another picture of the altar. Note the really unusual Christus painting on the back wall. It is all in black.

Where the laity sit. Note the small amount of informational books to help you follow along.
congregation pews

Where the monks sit. Solid, with slight dividers. This way they pray together, but also have some privacy.
monk pews2

Note the vast amount of informational books here for the monks. You’d think they wouldn’t need it more than the laity.
monk pews

The flying cross

The cross

The cross and altar. Note how the baptismal font looks like a chalice atop the altar at this angle.

Outside door in the sunlight. This is a door that is not normally used.

It is quite atmospheric this time of day and year.

The baptismal font. Covered in scenes depicting stories about water in the Bible. The font is connected to a water pump so it burbles all the time with fresh water. It is quite large.

Outside the Abbey front doors.

Inside the Blessed Sacrament chapel.

The Black Madonna.
Mary 1

A sunny picture of the Abbey.

Very ornamented.

Inside, a Corinthian column.

A Yale lock on the front left door.