Thirty friars walk down for dinner on a Thursday evening, but this is not just any normal evening. There is no talking as we walk down, no discussion on the updates of the most recent election polls, no philosophical discussions, nothing at all, just silence. Every Thursday the friars in the House of Studies in St. Louis have a silent day. It is a time for prayer and reflection on our life as Dominicans. After coming back from my pastoral year this past year, I must be honest that I was a little hesitant about this development. It upset my original expectation and my understanding of the scheduling in the Priory. When things change, they don’t sit with me comfortably. I don’t like my schedule changing or breaking routine. Something happened one Thursday evening that changed my outlook for the better.
The friars made their way through the food line to the tables each awkwardly finding a seat. Most tables filled with at most six brothers. There was no discussion. You could sense the awkwardness filling the room. It’s unfamiliar to eat in silence with others, yet something amazing was taking shape. There was a brother across from me, who spilled a small mound of sour cream from his plate onto the placemat. Some of us had to chuckle. How awkward indeed, and yet how beautiful it is. It was in this moment that I realized something wonderful about silence. Instead of paying attention to a conversation, I was paying attention to my brothers around me. I was getting to know them, as they were—brothers…my brothers, no more no less.
You tend to notice that silence changes the dynamic of how we act and interact. When it is silent, there is not one person dominant over the other. When it is silent, there is not one person who is more humorous than the other. The brother that normally doesn’t talk is suddenly compared to everyone else is now on the same equal footing. There is no one to prove who has more knowledge of theology than the other when it is silence. Silence allows us to see the equality that we share as a community. Silence puts no person over another, but in silence we are equal. I get to see my brother as my brother, not as the smart brother, not as the funny one, not as the lone wolf, neither as the quiet one. They are just simply my brothers.
There is a joy in this discovery. Although there are qualities that make each of us unique and individual, and unique gifts and such should be celebrated, being in silence impels me to be with others rather than to separate myself from others with differences. Once I understand what joins us together, then can I celebrate what our differences bring to the table. There sitting at that table I was with my brothers and they were with me. I was not with them in a conversation as means of knowing them. I had better. I was with them as an opportunity to celebrate the presence of my brothers by being with them and they with me, and in a very unique way I had an opportunity to know them, not by conversation, but by just being with them.
This is not just applicable to religious life, but is very much applicable to our society at large. Do we take the time even when life is busy to be silent and to just be with friends and family? Even if life is busy can I enter the silence of my heart? If I do just have an opportunity to just listen and be with others, I am able to see that not one of us is better: different maybe, but not better. I only see a friend who is with me. I only see a coworker working beside me. I only see family member with whom I enjoy their presence.
When we enter the silence, no one is better. Everyone is in the same boat. And by recognizing we are in the same boat, no one is better, no one is worse. In the end, the things which make us unique are to get this whole boat moving toward God.