The Stem

black-and-white-daisy-flower-1

There was a time when noise was not
And silence enveloped the world.
Then came a word, “Let there be light!”
Noise shattered silence’s reign,
Yet silence remained.
Noise did not replace silence
Any more than a child replaces her mother upon entering into the world.
Noise was the eventual budding of the stem of silence.
There was no tension, no rivalry between the two.
They both beheld each other with such reverence and awe.
Silence wept as she listened to Chopin and Mozart
And noise always looked forward to finding rest in her mother’s embrace.
But this is hardly the reality we observe these days.
No, we have plucked noise from her stem.
We have pit the two against each other
And have decided to exult that which blooms.
After all, it is said, noise propels us forward in “progress”
While silence holds us back.
Noise liberates, silence imprisons.
Noise frees us from our worries, silence drags us into a lonesome depression.
Therefore we must allow noise’s mother to die, her stem to wither.
And yet, in all of this, there is more at work in man’s heart than mere dissatisfaction with silence.
There is a fear of silence that has crept into our being.
To enter into silence is to surrender control and predictability.
When silence enters a conversation,
She is seen as a small flame that needs to be put out by the waters of noise
Before it spreads and destroys the ego.
As a result, noise has been trained to hate her mother and see her as a threat.
It was thus that noise appeared to have taken over our world,
Leaving silence to vanish quietly into the night.
Noise became a sign of the developed world
And silence became associated with outcasts on the mountains of distant places.
They were allowed to cling to their ancient treasure,
But there was an understanding that they would never be welcomed
Here in “the real world”- “the world of noise.”

~ ~ ~

This was the world Brother John was born into. As an infant, he was left on the doorstep of a monastery. The brothers took him in, raising him in the life of a monk. When he was of age, he acquired his own habit and became more immersed in the life of these rebellious outcasts. He prayed for an hour each day before breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bed in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. He prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, and a Lectio Divina with the community daily. When his chores had been completed and he had some free-time, he would write poetry, read a spiritual classic, walk the monastery grounds, or take a brief nap.

It was a life of solitude; a life of peace.

One summer evening, Brother John knocked on the door of his prior.

“Come in.”

Fr. Charles had been staring at the crucifix he’d hand-carved in his days as a novice. He placed it on his desk and looked up with delight at Brother John. Their eyes barely met, for Fr. Charles-in his old age-could not lift his head above his shoulders for very long.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Father. Am I interrupting?”

“Not at all, come.”

Brother John took another step inside and closed the door behind him.

“Father Joseph had asked that I speak with you this evening.”

“Ah, on the feast day of our patron?”

“Precisely. Father–” he paused, thumbing the rosary beads on his habit, “through spiritual direction with Fr. Joseph, I have discerned that God is not calling me to take the next set of vows. I will be leaving the monastery.”

Fr. Charles nodded slowly, the peaceful gaze remaining. His eyes shifted to a nearby chair.

“Sit.”

Brother John sat in the gentle glow of a nearby desk lamp. He lightly tapped his fingers on his lap, waiting for Fr. Charles to speak. Fr. Charles remained silent, peering into Brother John’s eyes. There was no hint of condemnation, only admiration. He then took a deep, wheezing inhale and spoke, “You’ve been discerning this for quite a while.”

“Yes.”

“For a year now.”

Brother John hesitated, “…y-yes.”

Fr. Charles beamed. “My son, I have been keeping a close eye on you. One day last spring you were strolling by the garden and you looked so unhappy. I thought maybe you were just experiencing some  minor spiritual desolation. But then I saw you reach the edge of the hill, looking down at the family that lives across the valley. I got up to make my tea, came back, and you had not moved a muscle.”

Brother John began to blush. Fr. Charles’ eyes gleamed. With his hands resting on the arms of his chair, he leaned forward slightly- his head drooping to the left.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

“I know, Father. I just…I don’t want you to feel betrayed, after all you’ve done for me.”

“My son, what I want for you more than anything else is your joy and your peace. That is something only God’s will can provide. If His will is to take you away from me, then I will not stand in His way.”

Brother John looked down at his feet. Part of him wished Father’s voice would have a hint of anger or even indifference in it. He hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to abandon someone who cared so much about him.

“Father…I am afraid.”

“Good, that means you’ve discovered God’s will.”

“…well, yes. I suppose. But there is something that’s been keeping me up at night. I don’t know how to live in that other world. This is all I have known from birth.”

“What do you mean, ‘That other world?'”

“The world of noise.”

Fr. Charles closed his eyes, gently stroking his beard. Brother John was tempted to fill the silence by explaining further, but he knew better. He kept still and waited. After what seemed like hours, Fr. Charles took a deep, wheezing inhale, reached for his cane, stood, and began to hobble across the room. He picked up a copy of the Bible from his bookshelf and placed it on the desk next to Brother John.

“Genesis One.”

Brother John opened and looked up obediently.

“What did God create on the first day?”

“Light.”

“The second?”

“Sky.”

“Third?”

“Land and sea.”

“Fourth?”

“Sun, moon, stars.”

“Fifth?”

“Animals.”

“Sixth?”

“Man.”

Fr. Charles tapped into his renowned passion for teaching as he began to explain, “The first three days, God laid a foundation. The next three days, He built off it. The sun borrowed light, birds filled the sky, man and lesser animals occupied land and sea.”

Brother Charles was slightly frustrated at the seemingly condescending approach Father had decided to take. He’d learned all of this in his fourth-grade catechism class. He tried not to show his impatience.

“Before there was noise, Brother John, there was silence. Just ask the land, the sea, and the sky.”

Brother John simply nodded, not knowing how to respond. Fr. Charles delighted at the chance to continue.

“Our world, and it is one world Brother, has forgotten that fundamental truth. People think there are two separate worlds; a world of noise and a world of silence. You yourself hinted at this just now. No, there is one world, and silence and noise were meant to live together in harmony.”

“I realize that, Father. What I fear is that, living amidst noise constantly, I too will forget that truth. That fear has pierced my heart. How do I prevent myself from idolizing noise?”

“You must learn to find God in the noise. Yes, He speaks to us most clearly in the silence. Never abandon your daily time of silent prayer. But Our Lord is present in the noise as well; He is Incarnate! You can find Him in the wailing of a baby, the pleas of the poor, the mindless chatter of the man sitting next to you on a bus. He is in here,” he pointed to his chest, “and He is out there,” he pointed out the nearby window. “Where you are, there He is.”

Once again, silence was all Brother John could reply with.

“Come here.”

The two embraced. Brother John began to weep silently on Fr. Charles’ shoulder.

“This is all I have known. I am afraid.”

Father Charles backed away, clutching Brother John’s wrist firmly. With his other hand, he pointed his wobbly finger at Brother John. “What you have known is the Lord. He will remain with you wherever you go.” Brother John smiled through the tears. “Silence has something she wants to say to the world concerning her daughter, Brother. Go, and do not be afraid.”

They embraced once more and Brother John walked back to his cell for the last time.

~ ~ ~

The next morning, Brother John awoke earlier than usual. He folded up his habit, placed it on his bed, and changed into a white t-shirt and blue jeans. He gathered together his Bible, spiritual journal, and rosary and exited the only home he’d ever known.

When he entered the garden, he indulged himself in a favorite past-time of his: he took off his sandals and walked through the edge of the garden barefoot. He loved the feeling of soil squishing beneath his feet. It was a gentle reminder that he came from dirt and to dirt he would one day return. As he exited the garden the dew of the grass brushed the dirt off his feet, causing him to shiver. When the numbness in his feet went from refreshment to penance, he slipped his sandals back on.

Just up ahead rested the log which overlooked the valley to the east. Brother John had become acquainted with this log over the past year as he daydreamed of a new life; a life which was now becoming a reality. He had arrived just as God had painted the first strokes of light on the canvas of the sky. A breeze whispered through the trees and an orchestra of crickets and bullfrogs played all around him.

When enough light had reached his corner of the world, he took out the Bible from his bag and opened it to the passage he’d bookmarked the night before:

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
-Luke 10:38-42

He closed his eyes in an attempt to open the eyes of his heart. With those eyes he looked upon Jesus, Mary, Martha, and the family in the village. He recalled Fr. Charles’ remarks and sat with them in light of the Gospel reading: “There is one world,” “Harmony,” “He is always there.” He was reminded of the confusion he’d felt after hearing Fr. Charles’ closing remarks: “Silence has something she wants to say to the world concerning her daughter.”

“What could that mean,” he wondered. Meditating on those words in silence for a half hour revealed n further insights and Brother John began to feel discouraged. When he opened his eyes, he saw a single daisy in the distance. It was a peculiar sight. After all the visits he’d made to the log, he’d never noticed the lonesome daisy. He walked over to it with fascination. “What are you doing here all alone, my friend,” he thought. He plucked the stem out of the ground and held the flower in his palm. As he gazed upon the daisy, it all came together; Brother John realized his place in the world.

He went back to the log and pulled out his spiritual journal from his bag. After looking at the daisy one last time, he began to write:

There was a time when noise was not
And silence enveloped the world…

~ ~ ~

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