We are besieged with endless babbling, and we become too weary to listen; we need to set aside a time to encounter the Lord. He can be encountered in many places, but one way is to find him in the poustinia (the Russian word for “desert”).
A poustinia can be a room or a small cabin—simple, even stark, so that nothing takes away from meeting God there. It has plain walls, a crucifix without a corpus, a table, a chair, a Bible, paper and pen, a loaf of bread and a thermos of coffee or tea, or simply water. The bed will be hard, for anyone who wants to follow Christ into the desert needs to do some penance; prayer and penance are two arms one simultaneously lifts up to Christ.
The poustinia is a place of solitude and peace, exterior and also interior. Everything needs to “quiet down”: the wings of the intellect are folded so that speculation and intellectual evaluation are quiescent. The head enters the heart, and both are silent.
The Bible is the only book found in the poustinia. The Scriptures become a million love letters from God, to be savored and meditated upon, absorbed so that you almost become one with those eternal, fiery, yet gentle words. Reading Scripture is a conversation with God.
When you enter the poustinia, you take humanity with you. You lift everyone before God, with their pain, sorrows, joy. The poustinik walks immersed in the silence of God. Our life of service and love to our fellow men is simply the echo of this silence, this solitude.
Then your own heart becomes a poustinia. You are there when you are travelling the subway and hanging onto a strap with your arms full. You go to a dance and you are in a poustinia. You play cards, wash dishes, you talk to people. That does not interfere with your poustinia, because the poustinia is the secret place where the Lover meets his beloved. God meets man!
~ A Reflection by Catherine de Hueck Doherty
Counsel for Silence
Go without ceremony of departure
and shade no subtlest word with your farewell.
Let the air speak the mystery of your absence,
and the discerning have their minor feast
on savory possible or probable.
Seeing the body present, they will wonder
where went the secret soul, by then secure
out past your grief beside some torrent’s pure
refreshment. Do not wait to copy down
the name, much less the address, of who might need you.
Here you are pilgrim with no ties of earth.
Walk out alone and make the never-told
your healing distance and your anchorhold.
And let the ravens feed you.
~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers), O.C.D.