Silence: A Most Necessary Gift
As staff at Desert House of Prayer, we meet regularly to evaluate the past seven days and to anticipate the coming weeks. In the course of these meetings we frequently refer to the gift and value of silence in our lives. We are agreed that silence, both external and internal, is essential to our ministry and its purpose, so we strive for balance between necessary communication and a quest for quiet.
“If you love to listen you will gain knowledge and, if you pay attention you will become wise.” (Sirach 6:33)
We acknowledge that an emphasis on deep listening and on inner and outer silence does not come naturally to all people. We invite each of you, our guests, to join us in cultivating a rich silence. Any of us may find ourselves challenged by this. We might address this challenge in the spirit of Sirach 19:10: “Have you heard something? Let it die with you. Be brave, it will not make you burst!”
As a community we are vigilant about preserving the silence for our retreat guests and for anyone who ventures onto the property. None of us has laryngitis; we just whisper a lot. Strange as it may sound, silence is important to our hospitality. Our welcome extends primarily to those, like you, who have come here to be in retreat.
Each Friday is observed as “Hermit Day.” In complete silence and modified fasting, we commemorate the passion and death of Christ and do so in solidarity with workers for justice and peace and with victims of injustice.
Vatican II called Catholics to honor the value of religions other than their own. At any given time, our guests may represent a wide range of faith traditions, Western and Eastern, or may hold to no particular faith. Coming to know these people and their inherent goodness, and being together with them in prayer, is our natural way of being ecumenical at Desert House.
Peace and Justice Awareness
One morning a week, issues relating to peace and justice throughout the world are presented and discussed. We have discussed such topics as the marginalization of people within the Church and society, immigration issues, local and global peace efforts, and social policies and their impact on the poor and disenfranchised. Lectures, videos, and guest presenters working in the field of social justice broaden our awareness of and awaken our compassion to the needs of global community.
Living in harmony with all creation is brought to one’s awareness in the fragile desert landscape, filled as it is with a variety of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and plants. Because those who come here engage in prayer, they often sharpen their awareness of God’s presence in nature. Consequently, the whole world of nature becomes very dear to them and they are ready to take seriously what they must do to keep from destroying it. Paths and hiking trails, as well as the clear desert night skies, compel awe of God.
An important component of the Desert House experience, music engages the emotions and heightens the appreciation of beauty in all its expressions.
Music leads to the threshold of repentance, of unbearable realization of our own vanity and frailty and of the terrible relevance of God. —Rabbi Heschel
Singing at liturgy celebrates and deepens the unity of the assembled believers in praise. A carefully selected collection of classical recordings enhances the contemplative dimension during silent meals.
Art and Literature
Artists, poets, and other writers feel welcome here and have contributed to our library and to the collection of paintings, sculptures, icons, mosaics, and photographs on display throughout the property. In the words of the Vatican Council II,
The fine arts are rightly classed among the noblest activities of human genius…of their nature, the arts are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God.