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The Silent Chapel

Sylvester's Grotto, the Carceri ("the Cells"), a place of retreat for Francis and his brothers in the hills near Assisi.

I found myself the other day asking if there was a word that held the feeling of whatever is beyond overwhelmed. These past several months, I have felt that overwhelmed, the word, is just a bit too small for what I have been feeling.

There is so much happening, so much changing, so much tension and anxiety, so much hopefulness and doubt. So much panic and so much faith. I feel like the volume has been set on full blast for so long, I struggle to find any silence.

And I find myself wanting to engage, to do the ‘right’ thing (whatever that is or happens to be). I hear about the state of injustice in one area and want to figure out a way to help. I hear about injustice in another place and want to see how I can maneuver things to make an impact there too. But I can’t.

Recently, while preparing for a class on discernment, I read Nan Merrill’s version of Psalm 85:

“Listen, O people, in the silent chapel of your heart;

And the Beloved will speak of peace to you,

to the hidden saints, to all who

turn their hearts to Love.

Surely new life is at hand for those

who reverence Love;

O, that harmony might dwell

among the nations.

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;

righteousness and peace will

embrace one another.

Wisdom will spring up from the ground

and truth will look down from the sky.

Yes, the Eternal Giver will grant what is good,

and the lands will yield abundantly.

Mercy and compassion are Love’s way,

and will guide our footsteps

upon the path of peace.”

I heard this and a light bulb came on. I thought – this is a beautiful description of discernment. Discernment is the process of choosing between two good options. It is the process of listening to what is stirring within us and responding to the call of God. It is learning to sift through all of the noise and the emotion and the fear and enter into that silent chapel in my heart where the Beloved will speak peace to me. Discernment is that incredible moment when wisdom springs up from within me and is informed by who I am and what I know of me, informed by my past and present, by what I most deeply desire – it is all that wisdom that bubbles up and meets that truth that pours down from the sky. That truth is God’s affirming words that encourage me to move forward, to embrace all that I have been created to be. It is in that miraculous joining of heaven and earth, of Christ in me that I gain the insight I need to move forward.

As I prepared for class, writing about discernment and reading the psalm over again, a notification on my cell phone caught my attention announcing another piece of horrible and disheartening news.

And then I saw them side by side – news notification and the psalm. One speaking of hope and connection, and one speaking of division and fear. In that moment I learned a few things. It was a whole chandelier lighting up.

The first thing I realized and need to accept is that I can’t do everything. I can’t engage with every horrible thing that I hear about around the world. I can’t engage with everything because I have limitations. What I can do is engage in some things. And by engaging in some things rather than everything, I can focus my energy and attention and be fully present. I can always try to be kind and respectful. I may not be able to actively engage in demonstrations, but I can connect with those who have lost someone during the pandemic. Both are valid and both are important. And by accepting my limits I am free to be more present to that which I can do.

The second thing I realized is that I had given into the noise. In my panic and being more-than-overwhelmed I had stopped even trying to listen to the voice of the God Who Loves Me and You – Emmanuel – The God Who Promised to Be With Us. I let the loudest voice gain my attention and let silence slip into the background. God’s voice is soft and gentle because it doesn’t need to compete with the noise. The God Who Loves Me and You, the one who spoke the world into being has nothing to prove. God is present, I just need to tune into that gentle soft voice, to enter the silent chapel inside myself and listen to what God has to say. There is an importance to being informed and knowing what is going on in the world around us, but not at the cost of losing the connection to the God Who Loves Us.

The third thing is that I have gifts waiting for just a time as this to come into fruition. And I don’t know what those gifts are or how they will be used, but the Eternal Giver who grants what is good does. With God’s help, that truth from the sky combined with the gifts and desires springing up in me, I will yield abundantly. And in ways that will bring life to those around me. Those around me may simply be the small circle of my friends or family or it may be my church community or it may be much larger. But the impact isn’t the point. The point is my faithfulness, to the gifts I have been given, to the deepening relationship to the God Who Loves Us and to the path set before me. The ways that I help are valid and whether the fruition of my gifts helps one person or a whole nation, the process is worth it.

The world is still noisy today, I still feel myself panicking a bit. But I’m remembering my way back to that silent chapel in my heart. I am trying to focus less on the noise and the notifications of disheartening news and that helps. Instead I’m trying to focus on what the wisdom that is welling up in me, those gifts ready to ripen and keeping my ears and eyes open for that incredible truth coming down from the sky that will help me find my footing in this wobbly world. And I may not change the world, but I will be able to my part in the ways that use the gifts I have been given, in ways that I can fully present, and most likely in ways I could never truly imagine.


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