The Gift of Silence
I am a friend of silence, and silence is my friend.
Sometimes I have to remind myself of that truth-like this morning. It is quiet except for the hum of the furnace and the occasional pop and crack of the house as it recoils from the fingers of winter. The refrigerator motor whirs in strange paradox, as it battles the furnace and works to sustain icy temperatures in the heart of my kitchen. I am reminded that silence is not the total absence of sound.
Vibrations from a family reunited for the holidays still cling to this space. They ring like a prayer bowl being struck, the reverberations growing dimmer with time, no longer discernable by the human ear. I am once again alone in a quiet made all the more profound for having been together. But even as I miss my children who go on to all that God has for them, I embrace the silence.
It hasn’t always been that way. I approached my first silent Sabbath with fear and trepidation during the first residency in Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program. I knew it was coming, having been pre-warned, but that did nothing to ease my dis-ease. Why was I afraid? Maybe I subconsciously agreed with my house painter friend who once declared, “It just ain’t natural!” So it would seem in our noisy world. I was afraid of emptiness, emotions that might arise when not masked by busy-ness or deflected by sound, and most of all loneliness.
Tilden Edwards gently and prayerfully led us into silence. I entered that place without words, clinging desperately to his prediction that I would not find myself alone. I entered silence with skepticism and emerged knowing he had spoken truth.
Today, silence fills the house and sunlight slips between barren trees beyond the window as if searching for spring that still hides under cover of earth. There was once another kind of winter for me when there was no green. It was a winter of the spirit, a winter called grief. My first born had died.
After honoring her life and her soul, after the last casserole had been consumed, after the last note of condolence had been read, stillness descended, and I began the painful struggle to survive in the aftermath of unspeakable loss. Words were impossible. I couldn’t pray. I felt as if I were sitting at the bottom of a deep well, far beyond the reach of words that were no more than dead leaves floating on the surface, unable to penetrate the depths.
“Where do you feel closest to God,” asked my spiritual director.
“I guess sitting on the bench in my backyard,” I replied.
“Go sit on your bench and know that you are praying,” she said.
And so we sat on that bench, God and I. We sat without words and watched the seasons come and go. Sobs eventually gave way to soundless tears. Raw pain gave way to perseverance and retreated to a private, sacred place known only to me and the heart of God. And in the silence, I found healing.
This morning I once again release my children to the grace and mercy of God and embrace the quiet of the day. I give thanks for the gift of silence and the lessons of Shalem where I first learned that silence is neither empty nor lonely when filled with the Holy Spirit. Difficult emotions can be borne when carried on the shoulders of the Holy One, and words are the least important part of prayer.