by Marjorie George
It was to be a weekend of silence. Our class of 12 people, all enrolled in the spiritual formation program at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, was taking a road trip to Lebh Shomea, a retreat center just south of Kingsville, Texas.
Lebh Shomea is a place dedicated to silence in the tradition of the desert mothers and fathers – an invitation to withdraw into the wilderness, clear of life’s clutter, to listen for God.
The desert mothers and fathers lived the simplest of lives – often taking only a small piece of bread and a little water for their single daily meal and spending perhaps all night on their knees in prayer. Each lived a solitary existence in hermitages mostly in the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts.
Our purpose for the Lebh Shomea weekend was to try to capture just a fragment of that ascetical life. Though we went as community, we were to remain silent from Friday afternoon’s arrival through Sunday morning worship.
Even so, said our professor, we would be living in community — communal silence, someone named it later. Each of us was to stay the weekend in individual hermitages, little brick cottages that reminded me of the third little pig’s brick house the big bad wolf could not blow down no matter how much he huffed and puffed.
I was not ar all sure about this. But whatever will I DO with all that time? I thought. How will I fill all those hours? To these questions, the professor only smiled.
By early Friday evening, I decided I was not called to the desert life. I felt alone, cut off from my classmates and from conversation I would liked to have been having with them. Restlessness ― the desert mothers and father called it acedia ― settled over me.
By late Friday night, I determined that I would just stay awake until God spoke to me.
Night at Lebh Shomea is unlike night at any other place. It is the blackest of dark and most silent of silence, gently interrupted only by the silhouette of an occasional deer or peacock moving graciously across the landscape. One actually can hear the wind in the trees in a Lebh Shomea night.
As I gazed through my open window into this desolation I began to notice small points of light scattered here and there – one just on the other side of the gravel path that led to my hut, another farther down the path, and another on the fringe of the compound. Ah, I realized, they were the lights from the windows of my classmates’ huts, each hut a single little beacon. Others were at home, each no doubt praying about, thinking about, reflecting upon whatever it was that God had given them to pray about, think about, reflect upon. I was not alone. We were a community being held together by that dark silence.
I think that is how it is with the saints. They are single points of light in the dark, visible only when we take ourselves apart for a while and allow ourselves to recognize and join that community. That light over there, that is Ignatius bent over his writing desk, crafting his spiritual exercises. And over there is Dietrich Bonheoffer, wrestling with a Christian response to evil and finally deciding to join the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Farther beyond is Jonathan Myrick Daniels, jumping in front of a young black girl in Alabama in 1965 and literally taking the bullet for her.
Sometimes our lives seemed immersed in darkness, and we feel all alone with no one to talk to. But St. John reminds us that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not put it out” (John 1:5).
And, really, we are all part of the community of saints, with our own little window lights struggling to shine brightly and bravely through the darkness. We are enabled by those saints who still speak to us when we are willing to put down the fussiness of life and tune out the noise of the world and take time to enter that blessed community.
Shh. Listen. Do you hear them?
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is from the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of Reflections magazine that is titled “Old Friends: What We Can (still) Learn from the Saints.
To read the entire issue, or individual articles in the issue, click here.