24 Hours of Silence: at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit

Words by Debra Mimbs

Photos by Caleb Chancey

 

Pain is a universal constant. No matter one’s socioeconomic status, career, skin color, gender, or age, we all experience pain. The toll that life takes on us can either crush us or make us better. Imagine Dragons said it well; “Pain! You made me a…believer. Pain! You break me down, you build me up…My life, my love, my drive, it came from…Pain!”

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And before learning how to use pain as a catalyst to make oneself better, we often attempt to drown out our pain with being busy. The noise of life can keep us from recognizing and dealing with our pain. I know it did for me. My daughter was a little over two years old when my husband left (of course, he was dealing with his own pain). Silence became my enemy, because emotions would wreck me, making me ineffective at both my career and being a mom.

We can only dam up our emotions for so long, and a year into being a single mom, I realized that something had to change. Of course, my first reaction was to seek professional help from a therapist. Family and friends stepped in and helped as much as they could, taking long trips to my house to stay for days at a time and showing love in both small and big ways.

One day, I was talking to my excellent therapist when I had an idea. She mentioned that she took a retreat to a monastery to do some writing and talked a bit about the monks and their contemplative lifestyle. They serve God through a hidden life in the monastery, where they focus on silence and solitude, always listening for God’s voice. And I thought, “Wow! Maybe that’s what I’m missing.”

I work full-time, and when I’m not working, I’m a mom. I’m constantly stressed, anxious, and trying to think about what I can do next to make it better. I never stop to just be.

So, I took a trip to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a Trappist monastery in Conyers, Georgia. I arrived to the guest building and was given a simple but comfortable room. All the furnishings spoke of a life focused somewhere other than on material gain.

I went to every service in the architecturally gorgeous Abbey Church that I could. They have seven public services daily, in addition to services the monks hold privately in their cloister, beginning with vigils at 4:00 a.m. and ending with compline, or nightly prayer, at 7:30 p.m. As I sat in these services, the arched ceiling spoke to my spirit of connecting with God, and the stained glass (handcrafted by the monks) reminded me of how creative God is and how what He creates is beautiful. I was not the only visitor at each service, and while I did not talk to anyone else, I felt a connection both to God and to the community of people there with me.

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I walked through the prayer garden, where I learned about Cistercian monks. I stopped by the Visitor’s Center and the Heritage Center, where I was inspired by the lives of the Trappist monks at the monastery. I kept my mouth shut, even at meals, all the while trying not to think—but instead to simply feel the peaceful presence of this holy place, trying to find the piece of myself that connects with God, a piece that had been lost amid the pain and noise of life.

Seeing the monks devote their lives to simplicity and contemplative prayer, solitude and silence, reminded me that the business of our jobs, families, and lives, while a blessing, can become a curse if it costs us our peace. My mind was able to reset and refocus. It wasn’t magic, and I wasn’t automatically okay after that one night. But I had begun a journey back to peace and tranquility at this monastery, and for that, I will always be grateful.

If you are needing a reminder about the beauty found in a simple life and the important role of silence in our lives, or if you want to teach this to your children, visit the Trappist monastery in Conyers. The monks welcome visitors of all ages and groups of all sizes. They have a little bit of something for everyone, including a gift shop, museum, bakery, burial ground, garden, and much more. Consider ordering some of their beautiful stained glass or delicious bakery items—and tell their story to the people in your life.