Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The sound of silence

Beloved and I are part of a book club that meets every month. We've been going for about 3 years now, and it's a lively, hilarious, insightful group of people...and we actually discuss the BOOKS! But I digress. Already. :-)

Here we go: because of the busyness of our lives, we often choose the unabridged audio version of the club's monthly selections, rather than the printed pages. So I was listening to this month's book on my way to work this morning. Terrific story, but as I was enjoying it I also got to thinking about the efficiency of my method and how it may not be helping me.

I can get a lot more done if I listen to the story while I drive, or walk, or do the dishes. And all of those mundane activities are more entertaining with my portable storyteller.

To be honest, if I'm not listening to the book, I'll still have my iPod with me: it might be podcasts of MPR programs that make me think or get me giggling. Or it might be music--works I'm learning for my choirs, long-loved songs, something new that stretches me, or simply a good beat that gets me bopping through the day.

This is all good stuff. But what I'm missing is silence.

Ssssshhhh. Just sit there for a minute. Really. Stop reading and sit there until you're not thinking about how you're just sitting there.

OK, what happened? Where did your imagination go? What did your heart say?

Imagine, if you will, the scene that plays out most Sundays at my church (and most churches, based on my experience): the person leading (or--sigh--reading) the prayers gets up and zips along to the introduction of the petition in which we ask God to hear "all those prayers now offered aloud or silently," counts to three, and off we go again.

I can't even remember what my prayer intentions are during that pause, never mind offer them. We keep going because it feels weird to just be quiet, and because we Important Things To Do: we have to get ready for the meal, for the singing, for the mission.

Well, yes. But.

This morning, I was noticing how little time I've left for silence in my life...and what do you know: in the course of one of my tasks at work, I came across this article by one of the professors at Universitas Majoris.

I live in Minnesota, a place rich with the history and culture of Chippewa, Ojibwe, Sioux and many other tribes. Even my Lutheran church has a name of Ojibwe origin. However, my real experience of Native American culture is limited to a fondness for Dances with Wolves and the Huron Carol, a liking for wild rice, and the reading of historical fiction and American history that was mostly written by white men. This is not my culture, but I love Wilkins' take on the power of silence:

Reconnecting with the power of silence will not be easy, living as we do in one of the loudest, most boisterous societies in the world, a society where it is difficult to find a space that is not already inundated by noise. But as Waters’ stunning language shows, silence is indeed a voice of deep profundity and has a power that if rigorously exercised could help us as Native nations and individuals to reclaim aspects of our sacred knowledges and histories that will more comfortably guide us forward.

Maybe that power transcends culture, and the richness is available to any pilgrims quiet, relentless and thoughtful enough to seek it. I hope so. I think that, next time, I'm going to try a printed book for book club. I'll be forced to sit somewhere quiet to read it. More importantly, I'm going to try to reclaim some white space in my head from the white noise that's overtaken it. Then I'll see what path has opened before me.

And I wonder what would happen if we tried to get past our Anglo discomfort with silence in corporate worship. What if we took silence seriously as an invitation to something deeper? Could we get quiet enough to witness and to participate in the "inextinguishable imagination of our God," as my brilliant friend Milton put it today, so that we might choose life, so that we may have it more abundantly? And do we dare to define abundance as something that is neither material nor within our control?

And, by the way, what if we looked for it in other cultures as well as our own, instead of displacing them or blowing them up?

Ssssshhhh. Let's try to find out.

3 comments:

Songbird said...

...
(I'm here, quietly.)

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

You know, I've tried using the iPod when I garden but I miss the way my mind can wander in the silence as I weed. You're right that silent time is so important.

Diane Vogel Ferri said...

As much as I love music I rarely put it on when I can choose silence instead. Maybe it's because I work in an elementary school building !!!I agree with Ruth - sometimes I don't want to be distracted from where my mind can take me.