The following is a letter Br. David wrote to his Benedictine brothers in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared his letter with a wider circle with the following message: "This pandemic is causing great suffering in the world, but it is also offering us a great gift. I know that, in compassion, you are doing everything in your power to bring healing to the suffering. If we also avail ourselves of the gift, we will be able to help a new world to emerge from this crisis. This gift is: silence."
In obedience to Fr. Johannes Perkmann, Presiding Abbot of the Austrian Benedictine Congregation, I’m gratefully offering this brief contribution to our special webpage for this time of crisis, although I declined all similar invitations up to now.
Dear Brothers, this pandemic is a unique opportunity to stop, turn inward, and be still – be silent. If you are called to assist the sick, the economically endangered, the official decision makers, you may have to respond at once. But even then, your response will have to come out of silence; only then will your service bear fruit.
I find it dismaying to see how many people feel called to add their own ideas and advice to the medical instructions and governmental directions on the Internet. Well meant, but what a pity that they have to rush in and say something; what a waste of this unique opportunity to let the silence sink in. Please expose yourself defenselessly to silence – a little longer every day, until it becomes quite uncomfortable, and then some more.
From comments in the public media, it appears that our world is still split in the middle between those who hope for the restoration of things as they were before, and those who consider that to be the worst outcome possible – unlimited growth on a limited planet. Words that do not come out of silence, can only divide us further. It will take a lot of silence, before we can find the words that can bring us together.
“In silence and trust shall your strength be.” (Isaiah 30:15)
With sincere gratitude to all who offer words of comfort to others – out of compassionate silence – I’d like to give the last word to Abba Pambo, one of our forebears in monastic life:
Theophilus, the archbishop of Alexandria, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, ‘Say something to the archbishop, so that he may be edified.’ The old man answered, ‘If my silence doesn’t help him, no word of mine will.’
Br. David Steindl-Rast is co-founder of A Network for Grateful Living known and an important figure in the modern interfaith dialogue movement.
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