EWTN carried the papal first Vespers of Advent today. I recognized in the opening hymn the melody of Creator of the Stars of Night, a personal favorite.
Pope Benedict began his homily on various meanings of the word Advent: presence, arrival, coming. One obvious one is waiting for the coming of Jesus. Another one is presence, which if I remember correctly, he mentioned presence in the liturgy. He mentioned that “we are absorbed by ‘doing'” and that “‘doing’ possesses us” (both of which I thought were apt in this busy season. Then Pope Benedict said, ” Be still in silence” and I lost the rest of what he said as the phrase had my full attention.
“Be still in silence.” Pope Benedict very likely went on to contrast the silence of prayer with the external busy-ness of doing, a theme frequently heard in Advent homilies.
“Be still in silence.” Here in upstate New York, in one way that’s easy to do as December is a time of snowfalls. There’s a stillness and a silence the morning after a snowfall when everything is blanketed in glistening snow. Stillness and silence are particularly notable when we’ve had a few snowfalls and the streetscape has softer edges of snowbanks and mounds of snow on tree branches. There’s a a deepness of stillness and silence with the snow on the ground and the stars above.
“Be still in silence.” The phrase also reminded me of Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s book Poustinia, which is subtitled Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer. Instead of snowfall, poustinia is the Russian word for “desert” and the book is about going into the desert of prayer. Although most of us can’t spend all day in a poustinia cabin, the Madonna House website book description states “Catherine emphasizes ‘poustinia of the heart,’ an interiorized poustinia, a silent chamber carried always and everywhere in which to contemplate God within.'”
From my time at Madonna House, I know that “poustinia of the heart” is having internal silence free from the noise of worries and fears, resentments and angers, jealousies and insecurities.” All those tend to create noisiness and one must clear them out in order to listen to God.
Advent, being a time of preparation, is a good time to do that.