Matter and Energy

Only half of St Benedict’s Chapter 42 is actually about keeping silence (especially at night); the other half is about the short reading he directs to take place in the evening just before Compline. So this chapter is describing two movements going on, two kinds of energy—one dynamic, one more potential.

There is the potential energy of silence, which is receptive, the proper and really the only available ground for insight, wisdom, and infused prayer to take root; and there is the dynamic energy of the nourishment that keeps this ground healthy and provides the seed to sow in it. This is whatever we are hearing during the day, but especially just before retiring. Whatever the mind takes with it to process during sleep, the last thing it hears is evidently consequential.

So, is there anything growing in the mind, and if so, what is it? Tobacco? Opium poppies? Food? And a vacant or untended plot will more than likely just grow weeds.

We know from being in the monastery a while that a little media input goes a very long way, and that this can be really a good thing, or really a bad thing. St Benedict is here telling his monks how not to become a vacant lot of weeds and scrub, asking the question “what are we feeding ourselves to engender prayer, to grow in wisdom and insight, and are we protecting the primary condition—the silence—that these things need in order to grow?

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