“Stilte” – with the international sign language of a finger to the mouth saying, “Shhhhhh” reads the green signs as you enter the spacious and lusciously green Béguinage courtyard. The interesting part is most everyone observes this small rule. The tourists are not so good about walking on the paths, but then the lovely green grass is so inviting but those infractions are minimal. There is a tangible peace and quiet that pervades the Béguinage grounds, and the most hardened heart seems to soften to it. Stilte/silence is the lifeblood of the monastery. There is none but the essential talking and that only in designated spots like the vestiare or the kitchen, but not in the refectory where meals are taken while listening to religious reading – or on Sundays and feast days, classical music. There is something to this life of silence. There is ample time to attend to the business of praising God and/or simply being with God, applying your heart to God. An early Syrian monk says of silence, “Many are avidly seeking but they alone find who remain in continual silence. Silence like sunlight will illuminate you in God. Silence will unite you to God himself.”
I myself have found that being silent is not all that easy and it must be worked at. Silence on the inside is quite a battle but time spent at this monastery certainly helps. Here 800 years have been spent by others ~Béguines and nuns ~ applying themselves to this silence. Yes, there is something special here. People return again and again to the guest house because of it; the hurried tourist is touched by it. So why do I write of silence now ? Because…December 24th is a day of complete silence for the Sisters in preparation of their hearts for the coming of Christ. No cooking, no baking, no last minute shopping – only Silence.