Monday, November 13, 2017

Holy, Holy, Holy Silence

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Yesterday we drove to Prince Edward County for two rambles through the woods. One was along the shore of Lake Ontario at Lakeshore Lodge Point in Sandbanks Park. We walked the entire trail by ourselves with only the sound of waves and the crunch of fallen leaves under our feet. On our return trip we stopped in to Beaver Meadow Wildlife Management Area, a small gem with lovely trails. It was quieter here away from the water. We saw a red-tailed hawk and a blue heron in flight. The chickadees and nuthatches were really the only "noise" of our walk. We made our way in companionable silence for the most part, but at one point Ruth offered "holy, holy, holy." And it was.

Last week I came upon a New York Times article about a Norwegian explorer named Erling Kagge who once spent 50 days in the Antarctic without human contact. He has written a soon to be released book called, fittingly, Silence in the Age of Noise. In the Times article writer Steven Kurutz describes Kagge's attempt to find silence in the Big Apple. It proves elusive. A secluded churchyard is filled with the noise of nearby construction/ Kagge eventually comes close in one of the lesser known art galleries, the Frick.

How do we get away from "the unwanted sounds of everything we want" and do we really desire it? Kagge observes about his Antarctic journey “When you start, you have all the noise in your head,” adding that by his journey’s end, “You feel your brain is wider than the sky. You’re a guy being part of this bigness, this greatness. To be alone and experience the silence feels very safe, very meaningful...I'm not recommending people move into a monastery, we’re social beings. But in the silence, you meet yourself.”

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Honestly, silence can be terrifying for people, and it doesn't require a trip to the Antarctic for that dread to set in. A fair number of worshippers in churches I served admitted that even the one minute of silence included in the service made them uncomfortable. Yet how do we hear God and our own inner stirrings if we don't embrace silence? As the years of ministry went by I felt increasingly "Quaker-ish", wishing for fewer words and more listening.

On our return from PEC we were almost immediately assaulted by the "mosquito from hell" whining of two leaf-blowers on our court. Why does there have to be a machine for every task we somehow managed by hand a generation ago?

Speaking of whining, I'll stop. And I'll continue to seek the silence.

Thoughts? You can express them with nothing more than the clatter of your keyboard!

Kagge in the churchyard of of St. Luke in the Fields, New York City


Eric Mundy said...

I do love music, both listening and playing. Not that I consider music noise, which has a negative connotation, but it's definitely something breaking the silence.
It's always strange to me that may homes, when I visit, seem to have a radio station going in the background, as if it has to be there to stimulate or carry conversation? I find it hard to focus.
I guess I'm just getting older....don't say it....

David Mundy said...

I agree with you about music Eric. Of course there are seemingly infinite varieties of music, and tempo and volume. But music can enhance tranquil moments the way birdsong and even crashing waves can enhance "silence."

I found that when I visited in ministry people often had the radio or TV going to ward off the loneliness, which is a shadow aspect of silence and solitude.

Getting older? You do have an auspicious birthday looming over you. You know that all your hair will fall out immediately? Hey, misery loves company.

roger said...

We love PEC and will, God willing, be living there in two years time. It's the peacefulness of the county that attracted us and, okay, the wineries are a plus too!

David Mundy said...

The views, and the real estate prices, are awe-inspiring Roger. Remember that Belleville and Trenton are gateways to PEC!

Lori Graham said...

Last fall, I often took my camera down to the creek just as the sun rose. I love that time of morning, and so does the camera. One morning in particular I stood on a bridge and as mist rose over the creek the ducks flew over as they did every morning, but on that morning I heard the swoosh of their wings on the air; a sound I hadn't heard before, I guess because I had trained myself to listen for the sounds of songbirds waking; and, what the ear listens for it hears, automatically tuning out what it deems less important. The ducks voices carried differently that morning, as if they were purposely harmonizing their wing flaps with softer than usual voices. It was such a silent morning, that the usually muffled sound of wings splashing in air pushed to the forefront. It was so moving that I didn't want to photograph anything that morning. I wanted to just savor the experience of that particular quiet. I had read once that the best photograph, the one you will hold in your mind forever, is the one you don't take. Not necessarily the missed shot, but the moment that moves you deep within. Around the same time, on another morning, I happened to look up and I saw a wedge of swans fly over, perfectly silent. I felt lucky, like I had been tapped on the shoulder at that precise moment and been granted a special privilege.