Sound of Silence –
For the last few days, the sounds of rain has been bouncing off the tin roof which covers our porch. I love the sound but hour after hour, day after day, and you’re ready for a break. Finally, today around noon, the rain stopped. I sat in my living room and listened to the limbs shed their build-up of water and after a while, there was only silence. I wonder if this was how Noah felt being the Ark, listening to the pounding of the rain and the waves and when it stopped did he pause and enjoy the sound of nothing falling on his big boat?
There’s been flooding in our area, yards are swamped, the drainage ditches are overflowing. Even though rain is a wonderful act of creation you can only handle so much of a good thing. Reflecting on the silence I also thought about what we desire in our lives. Most of us do not desire the “bad” with the “good”. In our imaginations, if we had all the power, we wouldn’t face the difficulties, the challenges, the mountains we climb on our journey from the cradle to the grave. Everything would be smooth with no setbacks or failures. If life was this way would we get sick of the “good”? Would we grow? What kind of person would we be?
There’s no way to honestly answer these questions but I do wonder if life would be worth living if we got all the things we think make life worth living for.
My friend, role-model, and father passed away early this morning a little after midnight. His fight was over and he was ready. He sat up one last time as if to say, “It’s my time. I’m coming home.”
The house seemed empty today when we returned from all the breathless running around one does after a loved one takes their final breath. Even though he hasn’t been home in a few weeks it seemed he had just left the house. Keys, hats, computers, movies, his chair all still in their proper place. It seems this is still his house, his home. But…it’s not. Sure, there are memories and experiences. A lifetime of highs and lows to relive for the rest of our time on this shadow side of eternity but he has moved and left a forwarding address.
I sit in the quietude with his presence still lingering. I think about all of the rough days he’s had over the last 8 months, the noises of the machines which were keeping him alive. After we received the phone call we drove over to the hospice house to say our; “Goodbyes.” The room was so still. No beeping, whirring, pumping, dripping, nurses checking in. It was motionless and the silence was deafening. My mother began to fill the atmosphere with soft cries, and soft words to her best friend and lover of the last 40 years. My brother and I standing in the background, witnesses to a heart affair which is rare in this world. Finally, after a few more kisses from her on his hands and cheek, we left all thankful we’d never see that room again and that he had moved on to his permanent address.
And now, we are left to carry on. To occupy a house which isn’t home without him. To learn to adjust to a new normal we didn’t choose. To loosen our grip on this world, this place, because we know home is waiting for us on the other side.
A friend contacted me with some disappointing news today. Nothing life changing but something I wanted to happen but didn’t.
It’s hard not to take disappointment personally, even when it isn’t meant to be. Disappointment has a way of worming itself down into our souls and whisper words of discouragement.
There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed when you have wanted something to, or not to, happen but its imperative that you don’t stay too long. Being in the dark place of disappointment can lead to despair. De·spair dəˈsper/ noun 1. the complete loss or absence of hope. This is where we don’t want to be led by disappointment and discouragement.
It’s okay to be down for a while but sooner rather than later you must let go of both the thing you wanted and the discouragement of not attaining it. This is often much easier said, written, than doing but allowing the spirit to settle, the voices of disappointment to silence, and the realization that you are alive, on the path and disappointments, like everything else, fade when you live presently.
One of the first questions I have, when teaching a new class or working with a father, is “Tell me how you express your feelings. Can you show you are angry, disappointed, frustrated in a healthy way or does it all come out as toxic anger?” Toxic anger is dangerous and greatly inhibits a child’s growth, impedes communication with others, and can lead to abuse and neglect. Understanding how a father deals with his feelings is key to understanding his relationship with his family, friends, and community.
One of the most common responses on how men deal with the feeling of anger is; “I want to hurt someone else. I want another to feel pain. I don’t want to be alone in my suffering.” This can surface in many ways, a bruising hand, a mouth filled with hurtful and caustic words. Other men leave and don’t come back, others come back but never talk about the emotion that erupted like a volcano. A lot of men simply get mad and stop talking, letting their silence oppress everyone who is near them.
Most men have never learned to deal, and healthfully express, their feelings. This is why for most men anger is their default emotion. The saddest part is they pass these traits along to children and the unhealthy cycle starts all over again.
An old Zen proverb says; “To hold on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”
A few weeks ago I broke the wooden handle on my shovel. This week my wife bought me a new one. It’s a Kobalt and guaranteed “unbreakable“. I did bend it a little today uprooting a stubborn bush. So unbreakable? Perhaps. Un-bendable? Nope.
It was, still is, a gorgeous day outside. Tomorrow the heat and humidity are supposed to come sweeping in but we enjoyed the moment of this day by working way too hard. We’re both exhausted but it’s a good tired.
As I dug holes for bushes and trees, filled the back of the truck with dirt and planted some grass with my new shovel I thought about the digging we do in our lives. Stillness, mindfulness, reflection are basically the same discipline with its goal to remove anything that stifles the life within us.
Digging around isn’t easy on the outside or on the inside but it’s necessary if we are to make old things new, ugly stuff beautiful, and go deep enough that growth, life, is possible.
The Disease of Busyness –
Yesterday I attended a webinar on the importance of silence in the discipline of mindfulness. The two speakers, both doctors of psychology, wrote their thesis on the; “the silence in between” the notes in music. These pauses in between are just as important as the notes which are being played.
Too often we construct our lives with what we think makes us successful or at least look the part. We craft an existence that has no place for silence. We believe busyness is a sign of importance. Eugene Peterson says; “Busyness is the disease of our time.”
When there is no place for silence, reflection, taking the time to breathe in quiet and breathe out the noise which pollutes our lives we die on the inside, in the deepest parts of our being where only silence can fill.
I Can’t See –
This morning, in a worship service, Beth and I picked out our chairs, made ourselves comfortable and joined in on the song the praise team was singing. A mom with a boy was in front of us also worshipping. I wondered if they were new to the church we most often attend because I had never seen them before and oftentimes parents who are visiting a new church are hesitant to leave their child with the unknown folks who teach Sunday school and Children’s Church. A few songs into the worship team’s set her husband joined her standing directly in front of me. She was petite he was tall, at least 6’4, broad-shouldered, a mountain of a man.
A few moments passed and he bent down and picked his son up so he could see the worship team which means I now couldn’t see most of the stage. It wasn’t the end of worship but it was different not being able to see the team and the screen with the words. So, I closed my eyes and listened to the words being sung, allowed the music to direct and guide me. It’s always interesting when, for whatever reason, you are quiet in your spirit and simply listen, allowing a song to resonate in your soul. You move from performing in worship and it becomes something more.
“O’ Lord, may our silence be your praise,
and our stillness dancing.” #BrianLoging
Improving Upon Silence? –
A couple of weeks ago I tried having a conversation with a man who wouldn’t stop yelling. His rant was about everything and nothing. No matter how I tried I couldn’t get him to listen, to move beyond his tantrum and into a dialogue. When his hour was up I wished him well but wasn’t sure the session did anyone, including myself, any good.
Tonight in our Incarcerated Father’s class I spoke to the participants about moving beyond anger and into a productive exchange with others. The steps are; respect for the other, listen to the other, be open to constructive criticism and have the self-awareness to know or hear what needs to change in your life and respond positively.
As I reflected on the lesson I thought about the man from a few weeks ago, my Facebook feed over the last several months, protest marches, inaugurations, and too many other instances where people are yelling, complaining, talking incessantly and rarely, if ever, shutting up.
Silence is in short supply these days. If someone doesn’t stop yacking and start listening soon things are only going to get worse.
Uncontrollable Words –
The other day I was cornered by someone who felt they needed to tell me something…actually, it was a lot of somethings. This person kept going on and on and on. I could literally feel myself wearing down from all the words, phrases that were being thrown my way. We weren’t communicating. I was doing my best to listen at first but after a while, I noticed they were just throwing words at me hoping something would stick. I was wrestling with which would be better; sticking my fingers in my ear while chanting; “La, la, la, la.” Grabbing a passerby and introducing the person to them hoping their focus would shift and I could sneak away or just making a break for it, running and seeing if they would pursue.
I was speaking, communicating, with another person last week about the art of talking and listening to another person. Wisdom tells us that true conversation is a sacred act. Meeting someone new, hearing secrets, weaknesses, dreams, memories, connecting on a deeper level requires not just words and phrases but silence and pauses. We allow the other’s being to be revealed and we share our own. This can’t be done if we never take a breath, if we are only wanting to be heard not also wanting to hear.
A friend of mine posted a religiously provocative question/statement recently on Facebook. It was designed to get a rise, a visceral reaction out of people and it did. Another friend was drawn into the fray and I found myself sad and disappointed at the negative outcome such public feuds too often de-evolve into.
Genuine truth seekers, wisdom lovers are rarely involved in these “conversations”, debates. Wisdom is not found among shouts, declarations, proclamations but in quiet conversations with ears, hearts, spirits open and mouths closed. Too often, well meaning but naive folks mistake opinions and loudness for true wisdom which can only be found in stillness and silence.
It’s happened to most cellphone owners. You think your device is on silent, everything muted and, at an inconvenient time, you realize you thought wrong! Yesterday, in a meeting, a presenter was giving an in-depth report and a person’s phone began to play loud music. Of course everyone in the room turned around and looked at her as she frantically tried to turn it off.
Last Christmas, sitting in church, I began to hear the song; “Another Tender Tennessee Christmas.” I recognized the tune because it’s one of my wife’s favorite songs and I wondered where it was coming from. The choir wasn’t singing it nor the worship team. As the song began to grow louder I realized my wife had selected it for her ringtone. Leaning over to her, I whispered; “I think someone is calling you.” Beth, who hadn’t even noticed, reached quickly for her purse. The phone was at the bottom and she rifled though her belongings finally locating and silencing it. She was embarrassed, I thought it hilarious.
Life is rarely predictable. Even when we think everything is taken care of, settled, under control, life has a way of grabbing our attention and forcing us into a panic, reactive mode. Hardships, difficulties, disease, death take us by surprise and we become focused on the unanticipated and all other things become hidden. While shock and preoccupation may be our first response we cannot stay locked in a state of worry, anxiety and fear. Wisdom teaches us that working through sudden disruptions, finding the stillness and silence once again isn’t easy but is vital to the well-being of our minds, emotions and spirits.
There’s something about sitting outside, at the end of a busy day, saying evening prayers. It’s a release and refilling, an exhaling of busyness, appointments, task lists and an inhaling of stillness and peace.
Yesterday evening I sat on the porch reading and reciting words that have been said at sundown for centuries when a butterfly landed on my foot. It was beautiful, graceful, and seemingly weightless. Even as I watched it crawl on my toes I couldn’t feel it. It was there but not there, present with no pressure. (I believe God is very much this way as well.)
As I continued with a Psalm, I was also reflecting on the moment. No vehicles were whizzing by, no dog barking or birds singing, the wind was faint and the wings of this creature silently lifted up and set back down. I thought about the beauty of silence, the holiness of a moment when the world is hushed, even briefly.
In a time when the loudest politician, brashest celebrity, craziest…whatever, gets the most attention, and people have an insatiable need to always be talking, playing, yelling, singing, making noise or listening to it, silence has become a rare treasure.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” #MotherTeresa
Earlier today there was a debate about culture, the state of America, the Bible, who is and isn’t loved, accepted by God. There are times when discussions are necessary and fruitful but in my experience debates do not fit into this category. I stated my unwillingness to engage, offered a blessing, excused myself and exited.
As a Benedictine Oblate one of the key tenets is humility which is rarely found in arguing or defending one’s opinions and beliefs. Another tenet is the discipline of using few words, silence and the awareness that; “In a flood of words one cannot avoid sin.” The Rule of Benedict doesn’t say we shouldn’t talk but that our words have the power of doing positive or negative, blessing or cursing, giving life or death.
So many people scream their opinions over the airwaves, on TV, multiple social media sites, and at each other. I wonder if refusing to engage, gracefully, humbly bowing out of arguments, praying instead of pontificating, if more silence might just be what our world needs to hear.
droplets fall unsteady from the branches above
landing heavy on the roof of a small porch below
the fading goodbye from a storm now passed
which bent trees and wind to it’s will
grass blades unbowed as water rolls off their backs
and rise like the dawn that scatters dark cloud filled skies
birds unruffle damp feathers and christen a new day with their calls
bees hum, ants and beetles pitter and patter
a choir of movement and rhythm fills the air
a lone man watches and lets silence be his worship
…written early this morning as I sat outside, quietly drinking coffee, reading/praying the Psalms and reflecting on how often we miss the miracle of nature…
Contemplatives and wisdom seekers understand the importance of silence. They crave it, a moment, a season, to embrace stillness and not contribute to a world that’s just too noisy, too obsessed with the sound of its own voice.
However, silence can also be used as a weapon. Sometimes it is more powerful than a thousand words spoken. This is both a positive and a negative.
To the hurting soul who needs to vent their anger and pain, one who listens is balm to the wound, but to the lost spirit dwelling in darkness, a voice is needed to help them find their way.
For the lonely a word of kindness and belonging can ease their suffering. For the battered one, speech can be protection.
I was talking with someone yesterday who has a difficult relationship with a family member. As a contemplative this person is comfortable with silence but admitted maybe they were a little too comfortable with not talking to one who could be difficult to deal with. After all, there aren’t many who can out silence a contemplative, out quiet a monk.
The question was asked; “How can I be sure silence is being used to bring stillness and peace to my spirit and not just a passive aggressive way of punishing the other? When is silence, violence?”
Wisdom can instruct us in knowing the difference between silence as solace and not speaking to inflict harm.
Being at peace with our brothers and sisters can be incredibly difficult. Using silence in any other way but to engender love, connection, community, is an abuse of one of our greatest gifts.
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T. E. Lawrence
I didn’t sleep well last night and woke up singing “The River of Dreams” by Billy Joel. I’m not sure how the song became lodged in my brain or the last time I remember hearing it but there it was and stayed all day long. When a song decides to take up residence in my noggin I usually find it online, listen to it and forget about it. Not today. Even after several times it refused to be evicted.
I began thinking maybe there was a reason it wasn’t budging. As I stopped doing other things, and really listened, it spoke on a deep, spiritual level to me. The song is about a man searching for meaning. His search has him walking in darkness, descending mountains of faith, through jungles of doubt, across deserts of truth hoping;
“to finally find what he’s been looking for.”
“I don’t know why I go walking at night But now I’m tired and I don’t want to walk anymore I hope it doesn’t take the rest of my life Until I find what it is that I’ve been looking for.”
As the lyrics of this song permeated my being I noticed my melancholy mood. Part of it was the low hanging gray clouds and rain, also my lack of sleep but even more so it was discouragement. I was sharing with a friend on Monday a feeling of life being log jammed. Being in transition can be a difficult part of the path to navigate and when you are waiting for something to happen, anything, to give you a sense of direction, it can be discouraging. Similar to the man, walking in the middle of the night, wondering how long it will take to find what I’m “searching for.”
After lunch I took a nap. When I woke up the song was still banging around in my head. I decided to take the Husky for a run. Taking my mp3 player with me, I put the song on repeat and kept reflecting on it. It was overcast but at one point, rounding a curve, while I was lost in the song, the sun broke through the clouds and shone into my soul.
“Only be seen by the eyes of the blind.”
The light reminded me there are times we must walk “in the middle of the night” and finding our way isn’t done with physical or intellectual eyes. We must surrender and be carried along by something other, something greater.
“I go walking in the middle of the…”
The end of the song keeps repeating “I go walking in the middle of the night…” Yesterday I was talking with someone about life and its challenges. We both agreed there are many times when you might not know where you are going but you keep walking, one step, one day, at a time.
in the middle of the night,
“Contentment is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” –Thomas Merton
I am not what most people call “musically inclined.” I can’t sing, except in the shower, can’t dance, unless no one is watching, I can, however, keep a beat, clap on time, I have a little rhythm.
I’ve attended many concerts, swaying to the songs, singing along with the artists, enjoying the music as it absorbs the crowd. I’ve also been next to someone who can’t keep rhythm, clap on the beat or sing the right words. It can be funny, annoying, and distracting. The urge to assist them in keeping time, clapping their hands with the beat, singing the correct words, to get it “right” can be overwhelming.
“As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.” Yo-Yo Ma
What’s interesting is many times these rhythm rebels do not realize they are off. They are enjoying themselves, singing along, clapping their hands and oblivious to being out of step. After all, isn’t the purpose to be swept up in the music? If you stay focused on them, and their seeming lack of rhythm, you miss the music which is meant for both of you.
“Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” –Yehudi Menuhin
It can be a revelation to go to a concert of a favorite band or singer and see fans who are very unlike you. Music doesn’t know gender, color, age, economics, religion or politics, it simply reaches out and draws in folks from all types of backgrounds, cultures and persuasions.
“Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it …” –Virginia Woolf
“There is music in the cacophony of life.” –Saru Singhal
Humankind is invited to be participants in a great concert. In the depths of our souls there is a rhythm, a song. A place which sings a melody mystics, contemplatives, saints and sojourners have danced to since the beginning of humankind’s journey on this grain of sand in the universe’s boundless shore.
Will we be swayed by the music? Dance to the rhythm? Or be distracted?
May we each be quiet enough to hear and still enough to dance,
“Finally, everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by one who is preoccupied with many things—eloquence cannot, nor the liberal studies—since the mind, when distracted, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it. There is nothing the busy person is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Yesterday was busy! Too busy! Each year we offer a safe place for families to visit on Halloween. We don’t blow the place out. A few carnival games, lots of candy, cupcakes, cookies, hot cocoa and socializing. Many of the folks in the neighborhoods surrounding our campus stop in for a few moments before making their rounds to the other sugar pushers in the area.
Each year, as in life, something unplanned happens. This time our games were missing, gone from their usual storage spot. We looked everywhere with nothing to show for it. So, with only 2 hours before the event started, we had to come up with new games from scratch! It was quite the adventure but everything worked out great.
Arriving home last night I was physically and mentally exhausted. Finding new games, setting everything up, getting to know new people, kids running everywhere, jumping from game to game, person to person, being many things to many people, and finally tearing everything down sapped me.
“Full minds create chaos.” –David W. Jones
The chaos of the evening had taken its toll. I quietly ate my dinner, kissed my wife goodnight, and went to bed. This morning, and most of the day, my mind has been subdued. Thankfully the house has been quiet. I had a nap, did some light reading and the evening holds the promise of more blessed silence.
“Needs multiply as they are met. Woe to the man who would live a disentangled life. Be on guard, my soul, of complicating your environment so that you have neither time nor room for growth.” –Elisabeth Elliot
Life is so busy! We jump from job to family, school to hobbies, spouses to kids, errands to emergencies without a moment to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. How quickly we forget life happens while we’re rushing to our next appointment.
Finding time for blessed silence in a life that keeps us hopping is complicated. During all the activity, it’s prudent to ask ourselves, “these things which have me jumping, will they bring me, others, to a place of inner stillness?” The answer can be “yes.” If our agendas are planned with purpose and clarity, serenity certainly can be achieved. However, if the question isn’t asked we can’t know the answer.
To know the voice of stillness in the chaos of life, to recognize its song amidst the cacophony of other voices is to be guided on the true path for our lives.
“May each of us find that place where silence is heard, stillness moves us, and peace overwhelms” –Brian Loging