Associate Rector Reflects September
There was no cell service. None. There was no WiFi. There was a 610-step walk to worship and meals, and of course, 610 steps back, three times a day. There was the Chama River to the west and a huge cliff to the east, against which the chapel and cloister were nestled. The mornings I went to Mass at 6:15, the chapel lights shined through the tall windows as I walked up the dirt road. It was heaven. Its official name is Christ in the Desert Monastery, where we stayed for a week.
A friend asked me, after I returned to Austin, about the worship, “How was it?” but I didn’t get nearly as much from the chanted services I attended as I did from the utter silence. From the beauty of the cliffs, from the cool breezes every night. I got more from NOT reading emails and religious writing. I didn’t even bring a Bible. I read a novel, and not even a very good one—and it was enough, just right.
It wasn’t until the third day, when I decided to put on a UV reflective blouse and my hat and began walking along the 13-mile driveway (officially National Forest Road 151 near Abiquiú, NM) in the heat of the day, walking and walking, going down side trails to the edge of the Chama River to hear the water sometimes, and walking more, that I finally came to myself.
I had been irritable. I had been critical of my friend. But walking down that dirt road, stopping under the shade of a cottonwood tree once, and pausing to watch the river sparkle like diamonds in the high sun—far more beautiful than in the mornings when I had walked before—I finally cried. I cried about the many events and upsets of the last several months. I gave God a good talking-to, and God listened. It was almost as if I had to walk a long way, in hot sun, down a dusty path, before I could feel Presence again. It had not happened on my morning walks. It did not happen during the chanted services. It happened on a long, hot walk where there was no sound except the river, sometimes, and the ravens, sometimes. It happened when there seemed to be nothing.
The same thing happened to Elijah (1 Kings 19). Hiding for his life, in a cave in the wilderness, Elijah learned that God was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. God was in “the sound of sheer silence.”
And so it was for me. Thanks be to God.