I borrowed the title of my blog today from the documentary of the same name. Into Great Silence is a documentary about the monks living in the French Alps who take a vow of silence, as in they do not talk. ever. Well, they speak at prayer and they have recreation time one day a month or something like that. But, I cannot comprehend living without talking and I am in awe of them. If you have never seen it, it is well worth watching. In any event, I have stepped into great silence this weekend. Originally, we were going on our annual extended family camping trip. My path was redirected when we were struck down with Salmonella poisoning from some undercooked chicken. I had already had three late nights when the first child came in vomiting at 10:30 pm and didn’t finally settle down until 3 am. My husband and I took turns tending to him as he fought his body’s natural instinct to rid itself of the poison. Each time he fought it and then reacted with greater violence when it overtook him—and his pj’s, his blankets, and his pillow. It was one of the most emotionally draining exercises I have ever partaken of.
The second day was calmer, but nighttime brought the same drama and I wondered if an exorcism was in order. So, when day three—or rather night three—came around I did not hesitate to grab a dose of phenergan for the poor guy. He needed to sleep and his body needed the break from the constant contractions of his abdomen and stomach. There was nothing left in the poor guy. So, as he relaxed into a deep and restful sleep Patrick and I sunk into our bed praying for the same. It was not to be. It was the next child’s turn. At least this time Sophia was a real trooper and didn’t fight it. She recovered in less than 24 hours. By Thursday Patrick and I had managed to get some sleep and were almost functional. It was a difficult decision for me, but I decided that camping was not the best activity for me. I also had Salmonella, but it never manifested as anything more than cramping. I knew that my body was fighting it and, all totaled, I was running on a deficit.
Patrick stepped up to the plate. He went to the grocery store, planned and packed for the weekend, loaded all seven kids into the Suburban, and headed out to the campgrounds. Allison jumped into action as well and helped with the packing, loading, and kid management. So, here I am alone in the quiet and comfort of my home loving every minute. If you knew my history you would understand why this is a huge milestone for me. I have never liked being alone in my entire life.
As a child I had horrible separation anxiety. I have vivid memories of crying all day after being dropped off at a new Kindergarten, of being alone before and after school at seven and eight years old, and feeling alone and misunderstood as the youngest child that was always “too little” to join my siblings in their games. I took this into adolescence and adulthood by dating at the tender age of 14. If I didn’t have a boyfriend to validate me, then I must not be pretty enough, smart enough. . . fill in the blank. Even after getting married, if Patrick went on an overnight trip I had to stay with my mom or have a friend come over and stay with me. Having kids with me did not count as company by the way. If it wasn’t another adult, I was alone.
My turning point came as recently as this Fall when my adrenals crashed. I was terrified to go on my retreat, but I also knew that I didn’t have a choice. For the full eleven days I never once felt alone. In fact, I basked in the quiet and soaked in the rest and relaxation. The truth is I was never alone. God was with me the entire time and I was fully aware of His presence. He was physically present in the Eucharist in the chapel down the hall, but he was also spiritually present to me wherever I was. It is not that He was not present with me in Kindergarten, or my childhood home, or even now. It was that I did not acknowledge His presence. I did not search for Him, rather I searched for earthly answers to my feelings of isolation. Now, in this moment as I sit in my living room alone I feel such a strong sense of peace and serenity. It is a presence that lifts me up. I can literally feel the healing in my body and soul as I contemplate God’s love and mercy for me. For the first time I can understand the desire of the Carthusian monks because God is found in the silence. Seek Him there.