May 7, 2012

A trip to Sky Farm Hermitage

All I do is find my thread, you know.
….—Father Dunstan, the monk who inherited Sky Farm

Last week I had the chance to spend five nights at Sky Farm.

Deep solitude. Deep silence.

Oaks at Sky Farm

Oak trees at Sky Farm near Sonoma, California

By deep silence, what I actually mean is the wind in the oaks, the California quail yelling chi-CA-go!, chi-CA-go!, the wild turkeys clucking and purring outside my window, the acorn woodpeckers jingling the birdfeeder as they gripped it with feet and tail to peck at the sunflower seeds.

And under all these, a baseline silence, full, weighted, and strong, like an enormous magnet inside the Earth. Like gravity itself—I could hear it at Sky Farm. Bird calls and cicadas and wind above and in sync with the silence during the day, and in the night, inside my hermitage with the windows shut: silence. Blank and heavy, molten and rolling.

Cross in the meditation garden at Sky Farm

Sunset in the meditation garden

On my first day, a quiet interior voice gave me a piece of advice, repeatedly, every time my inner lover of output and acquisition told me to “get some prayer done” or “take advantage of this opportunity.” Here’s what the quiet one said:

Just let the place work on you.

So I did, or I tried. Meaning that I didn’t try. I just stayed in it, in the silence, the presence, the gravity, the holy darkness of the chapel, the quiet by the pond.

In the refectory I found a booklet called To Hear Thoroughly: Father Dunstan Morrissey talks about his life,” in which someone had transcribed things that the man had said. To Father Dunstan, the “Word” in the Judeo-Christian tradition is “the dynamic that enters silence as when Isaiah says, ‘I send my word into the world and it will not return to me void.'” Of his years of solitude in Martinique, he said, “I felt the movement from silence into manifestation, and the return to silence. That was kind of the cantus firmus [strong song] for all the daily events.”

Golden poppies at Sky Farm

Golden poppies at Sky Farm

I thought about that a lot, and even found myself muttering about it to Father Dunstan, God rest his soul, as I wandered around the grounds.

The dynamic that enters silence.


The movement from silence into manifestation,
and the return to silence.
This is the
cantus firmus for all daily events.


This, I think, must be one of the fundamental purposes of seeking contemplative silence: the hope of becoming more sensitive to and aligned with the deep movement of the Word. Finding the thread.

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