Silence: The Music of Lent

St. John of the Cross has a beautiful line in his poem Spiritual Canticle where he references “silent music.” In his commentary on the poem, he explains that this paradox of sound refers to the harmony of creation. All that God has created, the earth and seas, wind and elements, creatures and plants, and above all human beings, combine to form a unity of diversity that can be best compared to music. And yet no actual sound is heard.

This unity is achieved only when all is under the influence of grace. Since the fall of mankind at the beginning, there has been discord. The silent music St. John hears has been in competition with blaring cacophony. The order of the universe which might be compared to the rhythm and meter of music has been out of sync from the beat of the Heart of God. The plan of God for the well being of His creation has been attacked throughout history and so the melody is often an unrecognizable jumble of tones. And the diversity which originally showed the infinite wisdom of His providence has been manipulated and poised against itself in seeming irreconcilable discord with little trace of His intended harmony.

Examples abound. The weeping parents morning over the children who will not return to school in Japan because they are no more. The degradation and enslavement of men and women who are seen as objects of pleasure and profit. The turmoil and confusion in each of our lives due to our personal sins.

What is the solution? Is there any way to return to that “silent music” about which the saintly poet once wrote? Is there hope?

There is, and this hope will not disappoint. We are in one of the most hope-filled and joyful times of the liturgical year: Lent. All our fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are means to an end which is reconciliation with God and by this with each of our brothers and sisters, indeed our whole world. The sacrifices we make and the penances we take on serve to restore an order essential for the harmony in our own lives and throughout the universe.

We take time and invest energy in letting go of those things that destroy the original order planned by our Loving Father. In silence we seek to listen for His voice, the voice that sang creation into being. We strive to reset the rhythm of our lives so that it may keep time with the steady beat of His Merciful Heart. We pray for reconciliation between peoples and nations so that once again diversity may be a force of unity.

As an outward expression of this truly interior work, our community greatly simplifies our Liturgies. We do not use any musical accompaniment except the organ, and that only on Sundays. Throughout the year, we add singing and instrumentals to our worship, but during these days we allow the silence to carry our prayers before the throne of God. Our chanting is simplified and the hymns that we do sing are by and large greatly subdued.

We are listening. We take the cue from our Savior, attentive to how and when He wills us to break into song. The order of creation will be restored by His Passion, Death, and glorious Resurrection. Ah, then we will sing! With jubilant cries and the full harmony of reconciliation realized, we will greet the Easter Morning. Throughout the world our joyful hymn of praise will resound with unparalleled beauty and grace.

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Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 8:21 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. That is one of my favorite lines in the *Spiritual Canticle*. We just went over that stanza in our formation group that I instruct. But how often it is forgotten. How often our nature interfere with its desires for pleasure and the *noise* of busyness. What a timely post…thank you Sister. I will link to this from my blog.


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