One of the most striking aspects of a contemplative Benedictine life is its silence. While it is not a formal vow that consecrated religious take, the humble, loving practice of silence is indispensable for the monk or nun seeking God in a monastery. For at the beginning of every spiritual search is some sort of self-denial, a quieting down of human desires that oppose the Spirit. “Whoever wishes to be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
Restraint of speech is one such example of turning away from the inclination to assert oneself, so as to create space for God. It fosters an atmosphere of holy reverence for divine things and encourages the interior prayer to which all religious are called to practice unceasingly. Within this silence, the soul is able to discern the “still, small voice” (1 Kgs 19:12) of God and perceive his ever-so-gentle presence.
A common favorite hymn of those in monastic life is one adapted from the ancient liturgy of St. James, entitled “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”. This hallowed piece evokes an increasing sense of reverence with every stanza, drawing the listener into the awe of Christ’s presence in his Incarnation, in the Holy Eucharist, and in every grace-filled soul. As we read the words to the hymn below, may each of us be drawn ever more deeply into this sacred stillness—the very atmosphere of God.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
set your minds on things eternal,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended,
come our homage to command.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
once upon the earth he stood;
Lord of lords we now perceive him
in the body and the blood.
He has given to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank, the host of heaven
stream before him on the way,
as the Light of Light, descending
from the realms of endless day,
comes, the powers of hell to vanquish,
clears the gloom of hell away.
At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim with sleepless eye
veil their faces to his presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”