The Listening Table: Turning to Our Hunger For God

From here:

Catherine Doherty has written a book, Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer, which is now considered a modern spiritual classic. It explains in detail the concept of making a poustinia (sacred place of retreat), which entails going apart from the community to fast and pray in solitude for 24 hours or more...

Catherine said, “No one can tell you what to do in the poustinia. You are there in silence with God so that he can speak to your heart.” From this listening to God, a new depth of inner life is begun...

It is not enough to lead a life of dedication and surrender under the promises of poverty, chastity and obedience. We must do more. Every Christian must do more — with vows or without — wherever they are, whoever they are. We must do more.

That ‘more’ can only be a poustinia, an entry into the desert, a lonely place, a silent place where one can lift the two arms of prayer and penance to God in atonement, intercession, and reparation for one's sins and those of one's brothers.

Later Catherine wrote:

I think maybe poustinia was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit himself.... the whole, wide world is hungry for God. For a place without noise. A silent place, for some solitude. Yes, the poustinias will grow in our land — all across its face, because there is within it a limit that man cannot cross. A limit to their ability to go without prayer. A limit to be without God. A limit to their ability to take noise. A limit to their ability to be always in a crowd.

Bow low before the cross when you enter the poustinia because you're entering an immense mystery, a mystery that has no end except when you will see the Lord who came to you to be consoled. Later, the Lord who came to share your consolation will come to console you. Then the Lord will come just to be silent in solitude with you. If you understand the poustinia a little you understand what it is you are walking into. You will know what mystery you are entering. The poustinia then will welcome you and embrace you and bring you solitude and silence and make you a prayer. "

(Image from here)

PS For a bit more on Poustinias, this from

"(A poustina) is a smallish house or cottage, furnished with cot, table and chair. The only permitted reading is a Bible, and the only permitted food (supplied) is bread and hot water for tea or coffee. The pousitnikki is to immerse himself or herself in sheer solitude, not reading more than the Bible, not working, no communications, not even praying if the spirit does not persuade. Walks in the woods or puttering in the cottage garden are permitted for the visitor's weekend stay. Doherty even gives license to just sleep if that is all that the exhausted but honest wayfarer can accomplish. But solitude, sacrifice, silence, self-discipline -- all these tools are intended to open the person to finding God experientially."

And its not just for short retreats. Those there longer, even full time (im assuming some of the food and other limits are realistically expanded then), go deeper. Catherine talks about certain words coming to stand out in prayer to meditate on and share over image comes to mind of slowly polished stones slowly gathered and shared. Thats the image i have anyway from this, and i find it very healing.


"It seems to be a little difficult for people to tell us what they have received in the poustinia. For those who only stay for 24 hours, it takes a long time to get used to listening to God and sharing what he has said. But poustiniki who are in the poustinia for a long time should be able, once in a while, to tell what God has told them. Because they are there for us, for others. They are there to share. It's very important.

It takes the guts out of you to share, because God touched you. Listening is touching. Smelling is touching. We don't want to share it with others. But if we don't we'll never hear it again. What you hear is part of the Good News; in a sense, a word of God (I hope I'm not heretical in this!). There is something of the Lord in it, and you are meant to share it.

A word comes to you and you know, deep down, in quiet prayer, that you have to share it. You suddenly know that you have to say this thing, and you don't want to. You say, "I don't want to! I don't want to! I don't want to!" But then, if you refuse God, if you refuse to pass on something that is being said to you, you can't sleep, you can't eat, you can't do anything. You might just as well be dead. It's going to come out; then you can relax. It's almost as if the word were torn out of you. This, to my mind, is what prophecy is....I would like to share with you some "words from the poustinia" that I heard. "(And then she goes on to share her personal experiences
here, definitely worth reading).

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