Peter-Damian Belisle, a hermit monk of New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur, California, is the author of several books as well as a teacher, translator, artist, poet, and novice wood-sculptor. This fascinating paperback is part of the Orbis Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series. He writes: "Silence is the language spoken by solitude. Perhaps at first reckoning, we might consider silence merely the absence of sound. But silence is not something that begins only when sound ends. There is something awesome and breathtaking about real silence; it is numinous, pulling us out of our self-containment and calling us towards the invisible."
With great prowess, Belisle presents a wide-ranging overview of the changing face of monastic solitude. He lays this out with chapters on Desert Roots, Theology and Dialectic, Corporate Solitude, and Contemporary Prophetic Solitude. From the quiet and stillness sought out by Moses and Elijah to the same quest in the lives of Jesus and Mary, the author carries the theme forward with treatments of solitude in Anthony, Evagrius of Pontus, John Cassian, Benedict of Nursia, Seraphim of Sarov, Charles de Foucauld, Dorothy Day, and many others. For these zealous Christians, silence was "the seedbed for spiritual growth and maturity wherein a person lays bare the heart, without pretense or deception."
Belisle is especially cogent on the desert fathers and mothers who conversed with God in silence and were able to forge an ethical wisdom that was down-to-earth and practical. Even better, silence and solitude in the monastic tradition has engendered a final and most poignant spinoff: "If we find ourselves in relation to that presence at the centre of our being, we will move our hearts, indeed our lives, outwardly in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world, universally, without exception. The deeper the contemplative communion, the wider the embrace in solidarity. Solitude teaches us, after all, that we are really brothers and sisters of the same family. This is the great gift that the 'monk within' offers the world human solidarity, universally expressed in communion with God. And a great irony rests with this gift. Authentically lived, monastic solitude breaks through the barriers of isolation and speaks a silent word of universal love and solidarity with all life."