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Ash Wednesday Reflection from the Prioress
Ash Wednesday Reflection
Sister Nicole Kunze, Prioress
March 6, 2019
In the days before refrigerators were common, icehouses were used to keep food cold. Icehouses had thick walls, no windows and tightly-fitted doors. Ice was cut from frozen streams and lakes in the winter and brought into the icehouses, where large blocks of ice were covered in sawdust to be used in the summer months.
A story is told of a man who lost a valuable watch while working in an icehouse. Though he and his companions searched thoroughly through the sawdust, the watch wasn’t found. The man’s daughter heard about the lost watch and knew how much it meant to her father. She snuck into the icehouse, and just a little while later, emerged with the watch in her hand. Her astonished father asked how she managed to find it. She replied, “I closed the door, laid down in the sawdust and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.”
Today we begin our forty days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to prepare for the celebration of Easter. A part of Lent is the call to quiet and reflection. It is a call to still ourselves and listen for that voice of God, that small, still voice that can only be heard in the silence of our hearts, like the ticking of that watch. Lent is an opportunity to ask ourselves: Am I able to hear the voice of God?
We know that listening plays an important role in our Benedictine lives. We listen for the voice of God in sacred Scripture, the Rule of Benedict, and the community. In order to listen for the voice of God, we need to have some silence in our lives. The articles we have been reading for our ongoing formation study this year have provided us with reminders and insights regarding how and why we need silence. Sister Jeannette von Hermann stated that “the atmosphere of silence, both inside and out, opens our minds and hearts.” Father Michael Casey wrote that “Silence invites us to give less attention to the external world and to become more aware of the inner world.” Sister Teresa Jackson reminds us that “Benedict carefully creates outward structures and practices of silence that will lead … to a deeper interior practice of silence.”
I’d like to add in a quote from Mother Teresa: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.” Silence is not a void that must be filled with just anything that comes along. We need to be at ease with it, to become comfortable with it when it is uncomfortable. It takes some time for us to grow into it. I know I struggled with silence as a new member in community and still do at certain times. It can be difficult to slow down my thoughts, to turn down the volume of the outside noise and notice what is happening inside me.
The goal of Lent, the goal of our Benedictine life is to allow God to transform our relationship with the Divine. This process of transformation is slow and will take a lifetime. It takes the daily routines of our lives, the repetition of the Psalms and readings at prayers and Mass, and our practice of lectio for God’s words to enter us, drive out our own distracting words and thoughts, and eventually dwell in our hearts. These practices assist us in listening with the ear of our heart and allowing that delightful voice of God to call to us.
I feel this quote from Sister Anita Constance, from the foreword of the book, Living the Days of Lent, brings the ideas of listening and silence together for this liturgical season. “Lent is a time for listening. It is not so much a time for thinking or doing as it is a time for reflection. It is a time to go to the sanctuary of our hearts and there, with Jesus, search the corners and the shadows that will speak his word in ways that we have never heard before.” (Constance, 2002)
This Lent, I encourage you to take more time for silence in your daily lives so that you may listen for the voice of God. Have less noise in your life – whether that comes from radio, television, the internet, or other activities that preoccupy your mind. Sit in the silence. Allow the silence to transform you. How can you make space in your days this Lent to hear the still, small voice of God in your heart?
May the Lord grant you every grace and blessing needed to grow in faith, hope and love during these forty days.