But I come here, and follow the Christian monastic day laid out like a garden plot by Benedict at the close of the Roman era. I am Western; I like my silence sung.

In any case, the day itself is silent. The only words are the chanted ones in the chapel, unless I call home. My thin voice sounds odd, insubstantial. My husband carefully recites all the messages from my office answering machine. I ask if he’s OK. He is. You OK? I tell him I am. I love you. Me too — I love you. Touching base. The telephone receiver clicks back into its cradle, and the mirage of news and endearments melts. It doesn’t disappear exactly — I leave the telephone room, a little booth by the monastery bookstore, smiling, his voice still in my ear. It’s just that conversation has become a bare tissue of meaning, a funny human foible, but not something to take seriously for once. The mid-day bell is ringing, and there is something I’m trying to remember.

That’s wrong. I am not trying “to remember” something. I want to get this right, this odd experience of praying all day. More like this: I am being remembered. Being remembered into a memory — beyond historic to the inchoate, still intense trace of feeling that first laid down this pattern. It is a memory which puts all personal memory in the shade, and with it, all other language. In my experience, it is unique, this sensation of being drawn out of language by language which the Divine Office occasions. Praying, chanting the Psalms, draws me out of whatever I might be thinking or remembering (for so much thinking is remembering, revisiting, rehearsing). I am launched by the Psalms into a memory to which I belong but which is not mine. I don’t possess it; it possesses me. Possession understood not as ownership, but as embrace. The embrace of habitation. Hermitage of the word.

Patricia Hampl