02/18/2014 04:08 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2014

The Silence of Everywoman

Everywoman has a reservoir of silence within her, a place where she is herself. This is a place of reflection and prayer, a place where she knows who she is truly and unforgivingly. Sometimes it is a hard place to be when she understands how deep her anxieties and deceptions lie, but at other times it is a place of joy, love, and contentment. Quiet and silence are essential to personhood, I believe. When Everywoman knows herself deeply and truthfully, she can be a light to the world.

When I entered the convent as a naïve 18-year-old, I did so not because I wanted silence, but because I believed that God was calling me there, to that place. When I then discovered the wonders of silence, meditation, and prayer, I was hooked. I loved the reality of the cloistered life which we led in the early years. We prayed formally every day, chanting the Little Hours of the Blessed Virgin, attending daily Mass, meditating and saying occasional prayers throughout the day. I loved all of it, except the long formal prayers before each meal, which seemed redundant to me. We practiced what Brother Lawrence termed "the presence of God," trying to keep ourselves aware of God's being in all the parts and all the moments of our lives. I don't think any of us were perfect in all of these practices, but we were being formed to be women of prayer.

Everywoman has the need for that kind of silence and what today is called "mindfulness." It has to do with claiming one's identity and developing a routine of awareness, of being grounded, of prayer, silence, and solitude. Everywoman likes to ponder all things in her heart, as did Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 2:19). It allows her to grow inward, to be reflective and to understand the world and her place in the world better. It teaches her to be more loving and forgiving of others. Silence and prayer lead to action in the world, conscious and thoughtful action for the greater good.

Today's world has an abundance of distractions which lead Everywoman away from silence. The favorite whipping post is social media. Article after article, commentator after commentator excoriates the social media for its distractions and superficialities, but I don't know anyone who has given up their smart phone, or their computer, or their Facebook, twitter, flitter, glitter, skitter, or whatever accounts. We're trapped in a world of constant contact, most of it irrelevant or inconsequential. There's too much anger, or vilification, lasciviousness, or information in the media. We can't process all of it.

There are physical repercussions to all of this. Scientists are reporting increases in anxiety-driven illnesses, behavioral excesses, addictions, and so on, perhaps related to the stresses inherent in our frenetic world. Of course, we all know that the distractions and problems of the world have always affected people physically. When I was going through the stress of deciding to leave the convent, sometimes when people talked to me, I could feel their words hitting me like blows, hurting my skin.

That's why we need the silence of Everywoman. Women and men of strength and silence are needed to maintain a balance of peace and quiet in a world of unrest and disquiet. I believe that those who deliberately choose a life of prayer, silence, mindfulness, and contemplation are those who, like my friend Christine, "hold the light" for the rest of us. They provide a refuge from the noise and confusion we live with. They ask us to follow them toward a peaceful place. If we follow, we find that calm, that deep-seated rootedness that we seek. After we do that, then we can change the world.