Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO: The Silence of a Trappist (Episode 15)

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 Marechal, OCSO, with Carl McColman

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!”

Tears of an Innocent God

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:

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

Lost in contemplation? Or just two introverts with their eyes closed?


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Carl McColman
Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.


  1. “If you keep with this as a practice over months, years more and more the breath breathing process ceases to be physiological rather than spiritual so the breath is then considered God;s breath you see and so you breath all that time and as you breath you breath this divinity . . . and so that is unceasing prayer. . .as you go along in this long journey … silence increases at every turn, every movement ahead, every settling down by the road and so it builds up … one session of prayer after another and it reaches a point where the silence is so powerful that it is there with you all the time; oneness with God.” — Brother Elias Marechal

    My rough, on the fly transcription of the stand out portion for me. Thank you for the faithful growth of this podcast.

  2. And then, only a few minutes on, I came across my other absolutely favourite part 😉 and made a rough on the fly transcription of it as well. Both will go in my notebook (I stopped called it a journal some time back and now I actually write in it often 😉 )

    “McColman: The mystical imagination. [Please] comment on [your] teaching that the subconscious mind does not distinguish between story and simple fact and this is the power of myth that is works on us at this subconscious level.

    Brother Elias: [It has been proven to be the case] that the subconscious does not know what is the difference between what is imagined and what is real. So,the Ignation way of praying the scriptures which is the Jesuit way, is to enter into a scene in our imagination and to be their with Christ and to listen to him and so forth and what happens is, that being with Christ is – registers the unconscious and so we actually were with Christ or better if we can identify ourselves as being Christ speaking to the masses then the unconscious says, Yes, I am Christ [we are the Body of Christ], and that’s very powerful [because] it deepens our identity in Christ.”

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