Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the
Reviewed by Julia Menard
In Music of
Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day,
Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast provides a thoughtful
guide to the value of taking reflective pauses during our
daily lives. He describes the eight components of a
Benedictine monk's day. Here they are:
Vigil means to keep awake – to watch. This is the time of
the "night watch." Most monks are up in the dark before dawn
to go to oratory. Symbolically, the darkness is "an
invitation to trust in night," to trust the mystery present
in darkness. It is a time for spiritual pursuit, meditation,
prayer, silence, listening to music, lectio divina.
Laud means to praise (applaud!). Lauds is the attitude of
gratefulness – symbolized by the breaking of the dawn and
our gratefulness for the coming of the light bringing us out
of darkness. Lauds can act as a daily reminder to see
sunrise as a gift come unbidden – and can help us see
everything as a gift.
Since most of us are not up before dawn, it might make sense
to wake up and praise (lauds), then carve out even 15
minutes for one's "vigil" devotional time.
Prime means first – or beginning time. This is the time when
work begins. We pause before we start the work day with
"planning" – taking time at the beginning of our work day to
"think ahead, to get priorities clear, to give some thought
on what matters most." To set our priorities according to
our "heart-felt intentions." We can also remind ourselves of
how our work contributes to "the whole human enterprise…We
are all working together with others whom we will never
Terce (or tierce) means "third." It is the third hour of the
day – a "monastic coffee break."
How many of us take a mid-morning break and use it as a time
to reflect? Steindel-Rast suggests we make it a "prayer
break." He offers one way to pray: by paying attention to
our breathe. "Each breathe flows in as a blessing…Blessing
is well-wishing… Each breathe out flows out as a sharing
of that blessing." There is an art in learning to recognize
a blessing when we see one!
Sext means six – and this time is reserved for the sixth
hour of the day: noon. Steindel-Rast describes this time of
the day as a "time of transition, rousing us to stay the
course, not be lured by the devil of depression – slipping
resolve." Sext is also associated with crisis – where we
face a barrier or challenge and need guidance to know what
to let go of to be able to make it to the other side. At
this lunch-hour time of day, perhaps just before we eat, we
can ask: "What can guide me now?"
None is nine: the ninth hour of the day – mid to late
afternoon. It is the fading part of the day, the time of
decline, when shadows begin to lengthen. The fading of time
brings home death and impermanence and the need to connect
with something transcendent (beyond time). This perspective
helps us connect with is most important. It is an
opportunity to acknowledge the limits of our lives (families, jobs) as having meaningful things that happen
there. We can use this time to let go of unmet expectations,
reminding ourselves to live fully within our lives as they are, as
captured by the injunction: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it
with thy might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It is also a time to decide the
next steps needed to deal with the essentials. A time to find the end, to bring things to a
point where we can leave them as they are and where we need
not take them home with us.
Vespers mean evening and this time of the day celebrates the
coming of the night. It is a healing time – in the sense
that "healing involves knitting together of what is apart
or broken." Early evening is also a luxury time, a time for
culture in the sense of evening meditation, music or good
food. When evening arrives, people have a "universal desire
to find a serene place where they can put all the parts of
the day together – to let go of the day and luxuriate in the
quiet beauty of the evening."
Compline means complete. It is the conclusion of the
monastic day. Late evening is devoted to preparations for
sleep and for reviewing the day that is about to end. It is
time to take stock, perhaps by writing a few lines in one's
diary about what the day taught us or about what we might
still need to consciously let go of from our day (that still
binds us to the day). "We confront our inner darkness at Compline by
examining our conscience, by asking: "What went
wrong today? Where did I fail to meet the challenge? Ask for
forgiveness and resolve to do better tomorrow."
As we turn to sleep, Steindl-Rast offers that we can see
"God as a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.
Infinite darkness is maternal – returning to our
spiritual womb to be reborn again the next morning."
Julia Menard, B.A., C.C.R. (Certificate in Conflict
Resolution) is a coach based in Victoria, BC. This
article is excerpted from HEN, which appears each full
moon – because we can see more possibilities in a lunar
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