Friday, 9 May 2008

Is Silence Golden? Part I

Picture: Chapel at St. Peter's College, Kuching

In the seminary, there should be silence after nine in the evening. Of course, as seminarians are adults, formators don’t go around shh-ing whenever there is some sound. Formators trust that fraternal correction among seminarians would be enough to maintain the atmosphere of silence at night, especially after half past ten when some of us go to sleep and others need the silence to pray or study. Unlike the Carthusians, the formators do not demand absolute silence. We recognise that sometimes, we need to borrow something from next door or ask a question about something we were reading at the moment. The general quiet atmosphere should be maintained nonetheless.

As Singaporeans, we live in an atmosphere where sound is not a stranger. For most of us who live in HDB estates, there could be still quite a bit of traffic before midnight. The relative silence of the early morning could be pierced by an occasional passing car or motorcycle. For those of us who live in residential estates that are not part of public bus routes, traffic noise is not so prevalent but the sound of air-conditioners that hum inside and outside the house can still be heard.

Noise is so much part of life in Singapore that there are some students who would not be able to study without listening to music. It may be a common feature that students watch TV and do their homework at the same time. Some parents would ensure that this is a discipline that their children would not have, and insist that the TV is switched off until the homework is done. However, I think that no one would disagree that Singaporeans live in a generally noisy environment. Even if home is a quiet sanctuary, the time we spend outside the home at work, school or campus is filled with sound, if not noise. I am also sure that a significant number of Singaporeans look forward to some quiet every day. Thus, I believe that the seminarians are quite privileged because there are moments of silence inserted into the schedule that they keep.

Generally, we wake up, still encompassed in the general silence of the previous night. As far as possible, the first sound we utter is the praise we give to the Lord at Lauds. Father Rector breaks the silence with, “Lord open our lips.” The rest of us respond, “And we shall praise Your Name.” After morning praise, or Lauds, we enter into silent meditation. That silence is broken by the Entrance Hymn for Mass on most mornings. Otherwise we go to the refectory for breakfast. At breakfast, the exterior silence ceases as we enter into fellowship. The next time we become quiet again as a community is the five minutes we spend in examen before Afternoon Prayer. It is usually quite quiet when many of us take a siesta or nap after lunch. At about three we begin our afternoon’s studies and work. Community Games in the late afternoon once a week is normally boisterous. We enter into prayerful silence once again before Evening Prayer or Vespers. Many of us will already be in the Chapel twenty minutes before Vespers. Every Sunday evening, there would be at least 40 minutes of Silent Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. We also keep a community Holy Hour on another day of the week.

Although it seems like to be minimal compared to the comtemplative religious life like the Carmelite sisters or the Carthusians, I am sure that it is helpful to us at the seminary to have these periods of quiet time.

Part II coming up!

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