By Bob Hesse
December 2nd, 2013
We entered grand silence, the vestibule to the heart of God. There were 22 of us surrounded by snowcapped mountains, the Milky Way, the soulful sound of coyotes, and the Gregorian chant of the Trappist monks. Thankfully, there was no turning back.
We were without phones, computers, televisions, or meat. There was no speaking or eye contact between us for 8 days in cold November 2013. Though we had met only briefly at the beginning, as silent time went on we came to know each other more deeply than words could communicate. That is what happens when you spend 3½ hours a day in centering prayer, a form of Christian meditation. Since there is no dogma in that silence we inclusively felt the presence of non-Christians, of all of humanity, a Oneness with the universe. Isn’t God Oneness?
We were hermits walking for 20 minutes in the snow from our hermitages each day to the monastery for liturgy of the hours and mass with the monks. Each liturgy is preceded by the mesmerizing chant: “O God come to our assistance” inspired by the simplest of prayers, the one word “help.” Then bowing and chanting “glory be the Father and to the Son” then straightening up with arms outstretched to all present and uninterruptedly continuing the chant “and to the Spirit who dwells in our hearts.“
My beloved wife of 45 years, Linda, had recently been born to eternal life. In my grief my search was only to be with God knowing that often that is accompanied by a profound sense of peace. Encouragement came from the shortest phrase in scripture when, upon the death of Lazarus, it says: “Jesus wept.” Though by that phrase it seemed my weeping was divinely permitted, my life could not continue that way. After each centering prayer session my chair turned almost by itself to face 12,953-foot, snow capped Mount Sopris in Colorado, which overlooks St. Benedict’s monastery. Then my eyes were opened and my gaze fell upon what the Ute Indian’s referred to, and revered as, “Mother Mountain” because it resembles a reclining pregnant woman. Indeed my wife’s image was in that mountain every day after each prayer session.
Only once was my silence broken when a note came from blessed Fr. Thomas Keating requesting a meeting. We shared a prayerful 1½-hours. Like centering prayer, it felt much shorter. He is 90 years old now, though with a cane, still with a sharp mind and deep, deep soul. He always blesses people with the sign of the cross. Presumptuously my hand rose to turn the tables on him, signing him with the cross asking God to bless him. How humbling yet gratifying that was. Thank you Fr. Thomas for everything you have done for me and for so many.
Upon my return to bustling Houston – and good Texas barbecue meat — a friend said with loving intention: “why would anyone in their right mind want to be totally silent for 8 days?” My answer was simply: “only in silence do you find your right mind.” It is the mind of God that dwells within everyone regardless of his or her faith belief.
Bob Hesse is an ordained Catholic deacon and Co-founder and President of Contemplative Network, Inc. (CN) dedicated to interdenominational Christian contemplative prayer. Bob is Vice Chairman and Faculty member, Institute for Spirituality and Health (ISH) and Instructor, Rice University. Bob Hesse holds a B.Th. in theology from UST and a B.S. in Chemistry and Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from St. Louis University. He is President/Founder of energy consulting company HEI having traveled to 60 countries often establishing international consortia.