On the Big Island when going to the City of Refuge you eventually gets off of the highway and onto City of Refuge Road. As you descend branching off of it is another road called Painted Church Road which leads, not surprisingly, to what is called the Painted Church. I believe it’s formal name is St. Benedict’s Church. The church is smallish and built in a style typical of the area… the point is that from the outside there is nothing to make this church stand out as something special. Passing inside however is like entering the looking glass and winding up in “somewhere else”!
Someone long ago (I’d heard it was Priest stationed there) painted the interior walls and ceiling with various scenes. The pillars holding up the choir loft are painted in such a way to almost resemble barbershop poles. Biblical scenes divide the walls into segments. The ceiling is a combination of palm fronds, stars, color and clouds. But it is the apse wall behind the altar that is so phenomenal! The apse wall has been painted with a perspective one finds in a great cathedral giving such depth to the flat wall that one sees part of a cathedral interior beyond the altar! Immediately one’s perspective within the little church is changed!
Human beings are meant to grow and change, to be transformed (hopefully for the better) by the journey taken through life. As one grows, matures, and ages one’s perspective on issues also changes, take, for example, the issue of silence. Western culture strives to banish silence from our lives, whether while shopping in a store or riding in an elevator. People walk along the sidewalks with ear-buds in, listening to their favorite music rather than to the sounds of the area through which they are passing. It is almost as if we are trying to ignore the reality around us and construct for ourselves an alternate and fantasy-based reality. In short, our culture teaches us that silence is something to be filled.
The real purpose of silence is to foster awareness. Through the practice of silence the monk, or anyone yearning for real growth comes to terms with reality rather than projecting the will upon it. Silence is not passivity. Silence is not even really the absence of noise! Rather, it is like obedience… an intense alertness, an awareness of what reality is saying at that moment. So why should we opt for silence? The reason is because God speaks within the reality that he has created and tends to speak most loudly within the stillness of silence.
The point about growth is that human beings are called to transform the life that they have been given into one that is divine and spiritual. Spirituality is the bloom that the bud of human existence grows into being. Awareness is the fruit of that bloom. While in the Painted Church, staring at that cathedral-like expanse behind the altar a line from an E. E. Cumming’s poem popped back into my mind: “I am a little church, no great Cathedral”. Somehow St. Benedict’s manages to be both at once… and so should we!