Frederick Buechner, Lostness, Madness, Noise, Silence

Silence ~ Holding Your Breath to Listen

“Silence” Photography by Daniele Colucci

Silence is at a premium at my house. The only time of day that is silent in my house is in the early morning—after the meowing cat goes outside; before anyone else in the house wakes up; before the iPad starts with its incessant sounds for incoming messages; and even before the sound of brewing coffee. I cherish that silence because, immersed in it, I learn all kinds of important things about myself. Including how much my soul needs silence and how little it gets.

I suppose silence is hard to come by for most people, at least those of us who are barraged by life’s incessant activity. Many culprits steal silence from us, but they are not always bad culprits. Many silence breakers are wonderful sounds like children’s laughter or a baby making baby sounds, or soothing music, gently falling rain, gentle breezes, the ebb and flow of the ocean, a flowing stream, birdsong. Some sounds are beautiful sounds.

The silence thieves I’m talking about are those that assault our places of solitude and peace. I think you will know some of them—like the sounds of gunfire in cities and communities, the sounds of family violence, the sounds of war, and even the sound of the broadcast news that tells us about all of those sounds and so many more. You will name your own sounds, the ones that strike fear in you, create inner turmoil for you, shatter your silenced places.

I think it’s important, at least for me, to find moments of silence and, in those silences, to think deeply, to calm my soul, to help mend my broken places, to discover my self and learn the truth of who I really am. And for me, I need silence to help me find my spiritual center. Believe me, silence eases every kind of headache and relaxes every painful muscle.

But then there’s that incessant news on tv! I know—I can just turn it off. The problem is that turning it off feels like turning my back on news I need to hear. If people are languishing from hunger, or suffering the violence of war, or living in fear for their lives, or dodging the violent fists of an abusive parent, or running away in fear of a terrorizing spouse, I need to know. I need to know because I care and just maybe I can do something about it. Like pray, reach out, call an ambulance, call the police, pray, offer words of comfort, cook a meal, call my Congress people, pray.

So yes, the television gives information that makes us care about our neighbor, about our communities and about the world. Still, it creates noise and sometimes we need silence. Our silence gives us the compassionate heart and the strength to help other when we can. The silence helps me find my own truth, and it is my truth that motivates me to care about what happens to others. A quote by Maxime Lagacé is full of wisdom, ”Noise creates illusions. Silence brings truth.”

I need silence and I need truth, about myself and about the world of chaos we seem to have created for ourselves. In his wonderful book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner tells a story about Advent, how much we need to silently wait during the season of Advent for the coming of the Christ child, and also how we usually don’t get a silent moment. What overtakes our world is the noise of traffic, the noise of shoppers in overcrowded stores, the terrible noise of violence that the season always brings and, this year again, the noise of lament about those suffering from Covid-19 and the noise of the news that tells us about all of it—again and again and again. We can’t get a break and we can’t get even a smidgen of silence.

I am deeply moved by Frederick Buechner’s Advent story, especially when he writes about what he calls “the silence of a midwinter dusk.” In that dusk, he says, ”there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.”

For me and for you, I hope for an escape from noise and constant activity, and instead slipping into a sacred space where we find silence and stillness. I don’t know about you, but I need that. I think we can somehow break away from the “madness and lostness” of the world and hightail it towards our places of silence.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.  

– Frederick Buechner

May it be so for you.

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