I recently had the opportunity to take part in a sort of pilgrimage to the little village of Herrnhut, Germany and I learned something I will never forget about silence.
Our purpose for going to Herrnhut was to discern if there would be potential there to bring groups from the Order of the Mustard Seed for retreat and pilgrimage. Evelyn Underhill refers to retreat as ‘loitering with intent’, which in a sense was what we were doing.
Pilgrimage is a ‘symbolic acting out of an inward journey.’ And as we left behind us the beautiful bustling city of Vienna and the incredible yet intense full days of the annual 24-7 Prayer Gathering, entering into the quiet, wide-open spaces of the Czech, I could feel my soul quieting.
Herrnhut is a special place for me. Deep friendships have been formed there in past years and never-to-be-forgotten encounters with the presence of Jesus have taken place there. So as we drove into the sleepy little village that Sunday night, I felt my internal ears turning towards Jesus with an undercurrent of anticipation
The next morning we set out to walk a lovely path called the Skulpturenpfad. It meanders through forest, beside ponds and small streams and across fields. And every now and then you come upon a fascinating sculpture (thus the name of the path), all the sculptures together telling the visual story of Zinzendorf and the Moravians of Herrnhut.
We had agreed to walk together in silence, giving God greater space to speak to us. Henri Nouwen says, “First, silence makes us pilgrims. Secondly, silence guards the fire within. Thirdly, silence teaches us to speak.”
And I have to say, this describes beautifully what I experienced in that time of silence.
If you ever have the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage with others, I can not recommend enough that you spend some of that pilgrimage in silence together!
The experience was profoundly moving and impacting. There came such a sense of deeper connection with one another as we journeyed together in silence, a connection that mere words can not create. I also experienced what is not new to me but what I always experience when out in nature on my own – that sense of deeper connection to and sharper awareness of the nature all around, as well as God’s presence and voice within.
But it was the sense of deep connection with the others in the silence that I found myself marvelling at.
Communication has always been important to me. Observing tensions between my parents, friends and colleagues over the years, I have always felt that so much hurt and misunderstanding could have been avoided by simple communication and honest chat.
And I love words. Words used well can inspire the imagination, bring peace, cause sudden laughter, influence perspective.
Being an introvert, I do however value those friends with whom I can sit in comfortable silence and it not be misunderstood.
But on Monday, the 8th of October, I discovered something precious about intentional silence within a group of people that goes beyond “comfortable”. This silence cultivates deep connection, a sort of communion of spirits, awareness of more than one another’s physical presence but awareness and recognition of one another at a soul and spirt level.
It makes me think about when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and John, still within the hidden place of his mother’s womb, responds in joy to the physical presence of Jesus carried in Mary’s belly. I think it’s what the Psalms describe as “deep calls unto deep.”
When we did speak again and began to share with one another our experiences, musings and revelations from the journey, I felt like I listened to each person more intently with greater openness of heart than maybe I typically would have. Because in the silence I felt like I had more fully met the real person within each of them – and they were beautiful.