We now have covered the “basics” as found in Discipline and Discovery and in the seven recommended disciplines of the Order.  There is one more “basic” to which I must give attention, even though it is found in neither of the mentioned sources.  I speak of the discipline of silence. 
 
            At the very first DOC retreat at Albion in 1945 the retreatants “agreed that at the end of every day’s activities they would keep silence until the first meeting the following morning” (E. H. McKinley, A History of the Disciplined Order of Christ, p. 29).  At the second Albion retreat in 1947, “participants were urged to stay with the group in the college dormitories because fellowship, unity and the ‘Benedictine Silence’ between the last meeting of the day and ‘morning watch’, the following day were all considered ‘vital’ to the success of the retreat” (History, p. 48).  Although never listed as an official discipline of the DOC, the practice of the Benedictine Silence, as described in the accounts of these first two retreats, has been practiced consistently at national events of all kinds, board meetings as well as retreats.  The practice has not been as consistently practiced at the regional level, but still is present in some form in the various regions. 
 
            The Western Region of the Order has led the way in respect to the practice of silence.  The members of that region have a venerable history of entire retreats devoted to the silence.  Francis and Helen Line of California, now gone to glory, pioneered in this endeavor, and Helen wrote a booklet for the Order entitled Creative Silence, as part of a series of booklets published by the Order in the late seventies.  Helen was committed to the Benedictine Silence as practiced in DOC retreats, but she felt that more was needed.  Since the silence, as practiced at retreats, took place mostly during a period of sleep, she believed the sleep became more important to retreatants than keeping quiet.  As she put it, “My belief is that to practice the PRESENCE OF GOD one must be fully awake, and listening for His voice” (Creative Silence, p. 1). 
 
            The retreats led by Helen were not absolutely silent.  There was just enough talk allowed to “start the flow of the Spirit.”  In addition to the times of silent focusing on God and reflection, the retreats included light meals, an exercise time, a “guided” walk in the woods, an hour of working with clay, and an opportunity to express feelings through watercolors.  These simple, creative tasks were done together in silence (Creative Silence, p. 2). 
 
            I came to know and love Helen Line through our service together on the national board.  My admiration for her was tinged with awe, because she was so different in a positive way from all other Christians I ever knew.  She and Francis lived with an appreciation for nature that I never fully experienced.  And she had a mystical bent that also was beyond my personal experience.  The following quotation from her booklet says a great deal about the connection in her soul between nature and silence.
 
     “Searching for answers to some difficult problems I am drawn to my favorite place in my garden, landscaped to catch the full sweep of the Pacific.
     I hear the waves breaking on the shore, and the sounds repeat the questions in my mind—why, why?  The death of a dear friend, killed in an auto accident, the multitude of requests which came in the morning mail—needs in Lebanon, refugees, world hunger, prison reform, Korean relief, and many others.  I am filled with the longing to ease the pain in my heart and the agony of our world.
      I scan the long distance down the coastline and am suddenly struck by the beauty of the water, surging in, creating a scalloped edge of lacy embroidery, each wave a work of art.  I forget the noise of the breakers—the questions seeking answers.  My heart is hushed into silence. 
     I center deeply within as I watch the transforming power of the water—it seems to flow over me, washing away the hurts of the day—and a sense of God’s presence breaks through, like the waves of the sea.  A great peace begins to fill the spaces within me, and I realize I have entered the holy of holies—God is speaking to me.  I figuratively slip off my sandals—I know I am on sacred ground.  As I internalize what is happening I know a communing with God has been established.  It is a mystery, but once you have felt this power you know it is totally real—a reality beyond words.  There seems to be an inward flowing of His Spirit into me, and as I listen, an outward flow of creative thoughts rush out to meet Him—we are one” (Creative Silence, p. 4).
 
            Most of us are not gifted with the ability to commune with God through nature and silence in the creative way that Helen Line was.  Nor are most of us as mystically oriented as she was.  But that doesn’t mean that we cannot experience the touch of God in the silence. 
 
            Becoming inwardly quiet always has been difficult for many people; but our present, cell phone, I-pod culture promotes constant noise.  Many cannot go to sleep at night without their TV on, and multitudes are uncomfortable with silence of any kind. 
 
            In order to overcome this cultural problem, one must determine to do so.  And one will not gain much from the experience without a bit of commitment to work at it over a period of time.  Since this essay is not intended as a “how to” manual, I will suggest some basic steps for practicing the silence in the briefest possible way.  The first, obvious, step is to find a quiet place for meditation where the outer confusion can be silenced.  The purpose is not to make something happen, but to allow something to happen.  The place does not have to be a lovely garden by the seashore such s Helen Line had.  It can be anywhere that we can be undisturbed for a time. 
 
            Once we have found and entered our place of silent meditation, we quickly realize that we already have accomplished the easy part.  Silencing the outer hubbub is a snap compared to trying to quiet the inner hubbub.  But to fully benefit from the silence, one has to win this battle.  I am an inadequate guide from this point on.  I do not have a stellar record of success at finding God in the silence.  A good guide, among others, is The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation by Morton Kelsey, especially chapters 10-11 (pp. 93-122) that focus attention specifically on the element of silence. 
 
            Coming back to the common practice of silence at retreats described above, since it is practiced only between the last meeting in the evening and the morning watch, it often is robbed of some of its power, because most of the hours in question are given over to sleep.  This was why Helen Line felt that it was inadequate. 
 
            On the other hand, even though the silence is limited to an hour or two in the evening, and perhaps to an hour or so in the morning, the discipline can be quite valuable.  To give even those few hours to silence and mediation not only quiets the tongue, it quiets the spirit.  It provides opportunity to be alone with God and his Word.  But one doesn’t necessarily have to spend the time physically alone.  One can silently walk with a spouse or friend, attentive to the often-ignored sounds of nature, communing with one another and God without words. 
 
I know from experience that not everyone enjoys silent meditation.  Some refuse to participate, which is all right as long as they respect the silence of those participating.  But after many years of study and experimentation, I recommend the practice to all. 

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