It's really quiet around here. Advent has taken hold of us and there is a kind of settledness (which my spell checker doesn't think is a legitimate word) about the house. The guests are few in number, because not many people would consider abandoning the demands of the season for a weekend in a monastery. So our customary crowded conditions have given way to a more spacious and leisurely feeling. Interestingly enough a large percentage of the people here at the moment are in their 20's and 30's, which is a sign of hope in itself.
This week we were in retreat for several days, which we always are in the 3rd week of Advent, and the vibes of that time still roll up and down the halls. This year the Advent Retreat reminded me yet again of what a powerful effect silence can have all by itself. There are all kinds of things you can do in a silent time, but even without the doing, silence accomplishes a lot, just by itself.
Even the outside world colludes in this settling. Much of the wildlife has either gone to sleep or gone south. Most of the commercial and recreational traffic on the river has ceased for the winter, leaving us with only the occasional tug boat pushing a barge along. Traffic noise is curiously muted the past few days. Stillness pervades the river valley.
And the colors are muted, too. Everything is gray or brown. Because we have had some unusually cold weather this month there is ice on the river and frost lies heavy on the lawns in the mornings. As we head off to Matins early each morning, the sky is colored with very pale tones of pink and peach, which we see only at this time of the year. At night the sky sparkles and the Moon and Jupiter sail across the heavens together.
Our newly refurbished Crypt is a mysterious cave in which to savor the quiet, made cozy and welcoming by the warmth of the radiant floor heating. These days it's very insistent in its call to come and share the silence, and to pray prayers that demand very few words. Nothing but quiet permitted here.
Of course the change will come, and not many days from now. The Guesthouse will be completely full for Christmas, and more and more reservations come in with each day for the days between Christmas and New Year. The tree is up, but not decorated yet. The decorating will happen on Christmas Eve.
And all I have to do is turn on the TV to encounter the difference between Advent in a Benedictine Monastery and The Holidays in America. The pictures of the throngs in the Malls and the mobs in the airports offer a sign of hope for a recovering economy, and the relentless barrage of Carols and Holiday songs provide the background for the season. I don't deny the joy of the bustle and the crowds. I even like it when I'm out in it. But I am very glad that we have an alternate way of expressing this season.
The Offices make our Church resound with the sounds of the Season - not the Christmas Carols - not yet - but the sound of Gregorian Chant which carries the plaintive cry of "Come". "Come." "O Emmanuel, come". The deep longing of the human heart for the Divine echoes through our church, our halls, our hearts. Advent longs for Christmas in a deep and insistent way - a way that requires some quiet to begin to perceive.
As I have said in this space before, one of our friends who was for a time priest in one of the local parishes used to say that one of her favorite moments of the year was coming to the monastery during the busiest shopping days of the year and seeing the sign on the bookstore which says "Closed For Retreat". It's our own quiet way of insisting on what's more important.
So, I send Holiday Greetings to each of you. I do hope your celebration is filled with joy. I hope happiness will blossom wherever you are. And I hope that the quiet depth which we experience so abundantly here will find its way to your hearts as well.
May the still small voice of the Christmas promise live within each of you.