retreat

From Thursday to Sunday, I was on retreat, in silence, at Minster Abbey. I kept a record of my time there, and reproduce an excerpt here:

I realized as I sat in the chapel for Vigils this morning that I have hardly reflected at all on the Scripture in which I have been steeped since Thursday afternoon. At first this struck me as odd, since I have long been in the habit of reflecting on the Mass readings, and for many years previous, on the Psalms. So why, when seven times a day I pray the Psalms with the community here, do I not mention the words of the Psalms? As I came up the stairs back to my little room, I thought, because that’s not really what prayer is about. My reflections, daily or thereabouts (whether I write them down or not), are a part of my spiritual formation, to be sure, and a gift that God has given me to keep me close to Jesus. But praying the Psalms does not require that sort of reflection. There is a silence about that contemplation that is inward, and the words–strange as it may seem–give voice not to thoughts or reflections, but to a deep, inner silence. Praying the Psalms is not an act of cognition or emotion primarily, though both may be involved; praying the Psalms is rather an act of obedience. Why do I attend prayers regularly when I am here? No one expects me to come faithfully to Vigils, to stay until the close of adoration following Compline. I do it because it is the Benedictine way of life; it is, in a very real sense, what I have come to do. The daily timetable is an opportunity for an act of submission that is life-giving, that allows me to draw closer to God not by my feelings or my intellect, but by willing obedience.

So as much as I am inspired, cheered, or challenged, by the words I pray and hear in the chapel, I am more deeply restored by participation, by prayer itself. To stand, to sit, to kneel, to bow–in themselves these movements of the body are not significant. But in the daily office they become part of the prayer, they are the prayer. Contemplative prayer is an act of the whole body, in which the words spoken express a deeper silence, and the movements of the body tell of a more profound stillness. Would that all my words and actions were the fruit of such silence and stillness within me.

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