Meet Brother Elias Marechal — Trappist monk, author, contemplative, storyteller, and a man of deep, resplendent silence.
Silence is always there — from the time we’re born it’s there, because it’s in the image of God. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO
This episode — a conversation with Brother Elias — is our second Encountering Silence “Field Recording” in which one member of our team (in this case, Carl McColman) records a face-to-face interview with a person whose life is deeply engaged with silence.
Brother Elias is a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, at the edge of the Atlanta suburbs. Born in New Orleans, he is a lifelong spiritual seeker, who after a profound encounter with Divine Mystery while a freshman at Notre Dame, has devoted his life to meditation and to a spiritual practice both deeply rooted in Christian mysticism and yet profoundly embracing the wisdom of all the world’s contemplative paths.
He is the author of two books: Dancing Madly Backwards: A Journey Into God (Crossroad Publishing, 1982) and Tears of an Innocent God: Conversations on Silence, Kindness and Prayer (Paulist Press, 2015). Of the latter book, Thomas Keating says it is “valuable and full of wisdom drawn from the author’s remarkable experience of East and West.” And Cynthia Bourgeault notes, “If you’ve never experienced authentic Trappist sapiential writing before, you’re in for a treat!”
Carl McColman has known Brother Elias since 2005, so their conversation carries the warm feel of two old friends. They sat down together at the Monastery guesthouse in November of 2017 to have a wide-ranging conversation about silence, writing, and prayer.
The image of God contains all of God’s qualities and characteristics. The first one is silence. Second, kindness; the third, compassion; then listening with deep respect even to someone with an opposite view, and so forth. And the whole idea is that you’re in this land of unlikeness and then you wake up in some way to the image of God. And you begin this journey, led by the Spirit, through the land of likeness in which, as you go along, all the various characteristics of God begin to unfold… in a simple, easy, and effortless way. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO
In the podcast Br. Elias discusses his first encounter with infused contemplation — at the grotto of Notre Dame University, when he was a freshman — and later discovering the complementary practice of acquired contemplation. He also reflects on a near death experience he experienced as a child, about his lifelong quest for purity of heart, on his experience of twenty-five years as a Trappist monk, how silence is an essential element in restoring the image and likeness of God within us, and much more.
He speaks about his early experience learning meditation and how the practice of meditation fostered his own relationship with silence — and how the Holy Spirit carries us through the unfolding of the image and likeness of God within us. He shares his understanding of the role that breath plays in prayer — particularly the Jesus Prayer — which allows us to let go “into the abyss of the kindness and compassion of God.”
There is silence in heaven, because to communicate with one another, one “transfers” thoughts to another, and the other transfers thoughts to you — and this includes God. It’s very very interesting. So silence is all-pervading in the heavenly kingdom. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO
Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:
- Elias Marechal, Tears of an Innocent God
- Isaac of Stella, Sermons on the Christian Year
- Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks
- Meister Eckhart, Selected Writings
- Desert Mothers and Fathers, Early Christian Wisdom Sayings
- Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land
Episode 15: The Silence of a Trappist: A Conversation with Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO
Hosted by: Carl McColman
Introduced by: Cassidy Hall
Guest: Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO
Date Recorded: November 10, 2017