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.

anxiety, Calm, Contemplation, Feelings, grief, healing, Heartbreak, life, Loneliness, Loss, Lostness, Mindfulness, Pain, Pandemic of 2020, peace, Quiet, Rest, Restoration, Sacred Pauses, Sacred Space, Soul, Spirit, Spirit wind, Time

There Was a Time


There was a time when I believed that I was invincible, with all the time in the world. Lately, though, I have thought a lot about how quickly time passes and about how I tend to constantly say, “I don’t have time.” I have also been thinking about healing. The reason for my healing thoughts could well be because at least two parts of my body really need physical healing, and soon. I don’t have time to be incapacitated, or so I believe. I don’t have time for pain and I wonder if my two places of physical pain were of my own making. For instance, my wrist sprain — now an orangey ochre color from my knuckles to halfway up my elbow — that the doctor says will heal in 6 to 10 weeks is taking way too long to mend. 6 to 10 weeks is entirely unacceptable! Was my ungraceful fall in the kitchen due to my carelessness or my lack of mindfulness?

And then there’s the terribly painful throat invasion, allegedly identified as a cricopharyngeal spasm, that feels like choking with a large object stuck in my throat while something is tightening around my neck. Direct from Healthline.com: “Anxiety about the condition can aggravate your symptoms.”

Aha! Anxiety! Therein may be the source of many ailments. That, and a lack of rest, relaxation, quietness, peacefulness or mindfulness, all of which are highly touted methods of natural healing. Healing of the body, yes, but also the critically important healing of my heart, my mind, my soul and my spirit — emotional and spiritual healing. That healing is often harder than physical healing. 

So I turned my thoughts, while suffering incessant physical pain, on the subject of emotional and spiritual healing. My thoughts raised the question of what exactly is the difference between the soul and the spirit, and how in the world would I heal there.

Here’s my attempt at an answer. Most of us would agree that we consist of body, soul and spirit. In fact, the Bible affirms the existence of all three:

May your whole spirit, soul and body
be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus.

(I Thessalonians 5:23). 

Our physical bodies are fairly evident to us, but our souls and spirits are less distinguishable. In the preceding scripture passage, the Greek word for soul is psuche (ψυχή), or as we might call it, “psyche.” This word “soul” implies our mind, our will and desires as evidenced by our personal preferences, choices, and emotional responses to life’s situations. Our soul is reflected in our personality. Our soul is our life.

“Spirit” is a completely different word. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma (πνεύμα). It refers to the part of us that connects with God and receives the breath of life from the Holy Spirit (Άγιο πνεύμα). Our spirit is our breath, the breath that animates and enlivens us from deep within. I like the way Theologian David Galston explains it: 

The soul is life, and the Greek word is psyche. The spirit is breath, and the Greek word is pneuma. Natural confusion exists between the [meaning of the] spirit and the soul since both words, in their roots, mean breath. But for the Greeks, there were two kinds of breath: the kind necessary for life, the psyche, and the kind necessary for [our very breath], the pneuma. In modern English, we might distinguish the two as life and energy.

I often ask my clients, mentees and friends this question: How is your heart? They usually have an understanding of how their heart is and why. But ask these questions — How is your soul? How is your spirit? — and the answers don’t come as easily. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that, for myself, it is that I am able to more easily know my heart. I am more in touch with it. On the many times throughout my life when I was brokenhearted, I knew how my heart reacted and why. When I am sorrowful, happy, excited, surprised or feel many other emotions, I can place my hand over my heart and feel is as if I have literally touched it, that my heart has told me what emotion is there.

As for my soul and my spirit, well, they are deeper in me. In the innermost places of me, my soul mourns and celebrates and holds all manner of emotions. In my innermost parts, my spirit lies quietly within me always waiting for the brush of Spirit wings, waiting in stillness for the breath that animates and enlivens and ennobles. There was a time when I would always find time for the healing my soul and spirit needed.

So in the dense forrest of all of the 700+ words I just wrote, what is the lesson? What is the message from God we need to hear? Believe it or not, it’s not complicated. Isn’t it just like God to send us an uncomplicated message that we immediately make complicated? God’s bottom line here is easy, simple, uncomplicated: “Guard your heart, your soul, your spirit . . . all that is within you.

From Joshua
Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.

From Deuteronomy
Keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen
and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.

From Proverbs
Above all, guard your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.

From 1 Thessalonians
And the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


And that’s it. There was a time when I would write 700 more words to tell you specifically how to do that. But today, I am not going to tell you how to heal. The ways are individually unique and the paths are many. So I will leave you with just one path that you may choose to follow: the path that leads you deep within yourself to your sacred, quiet place and then implores you to listen for God’s whisper and wait for the breeze of the Spirit. Where? In a beautiful, peaceful place, under a starlit sky, in a quiet filled with sounds of music.

In these many months of pandemic, experiencing loss and lostness, loneliness and isolation, mourning and tears, may you find comfort in the words of poet, William Wadsworth, here turned into beautiful music by Elaine Hagenberg.


Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.


Complete text of anthem:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory of a dream.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

“There Was a Time” by Elaine Hagenberg
Poem by William Wordsworth
https://www.elainehagenberg.com/there…

anxiety, Comfort, Emotions, Grace, Hope, Lostness, peace, Restoration, sadness, Serenity

A Balm for Hurting Souls

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On this Monday, prayer seems difficult to me. It feels as if I need it so much, yet cannot seem to connect with the holy. I need a quiet place, a place of peace and serenity. I need a personal retreat that enables me to touch all that is anxious within me. I need a place that can help me reach into the palpable anxiety just below the surface. I need a place that calls forth my tears so that, without fear, I can let them fall. I need a place that helps me to get to that lump in my throat that lingers with me. At my retreat, I need a person with spiritual insight and wisdom to gently guide me to my emotional and spiritual place of longing.

For many reasons, this kind of retreat is not possible right now, so I carry on. That’s what most of us have to do day in and day out, struggling to touch the holy and falling short of that. And then, on occasion, we are graced with a touch, a word of hope, a friend who understands, a prayer that reaches the heart. Today, I received that prayer from Anne Fraley. It is “a balm for hurting souls,” a word of hope. I hope it lifts your spirit as it has lifted mine.

Blessed One,

who colors our days with the glow of fireflies and the roar of the ocean,

carry us this day on the breath of your love.

Invite us into the nooks and crannies of delight,

where dreams are born and disappointments released.

Tend the bumps we suffer at the hands of the careless and the words of the thoughtless, and soothe the rough patches we inflict on others.

May our prayers resonate with the needs of the world, and our hearts connect to those who hunger for companionship.

May our song bear the imprint of all who seek you, and our chorus be as balm for hurting souls.

In all things, help us to weave the thread of love and light through the worlds in which we move, and raise our voices with joy to proclaim your name.

Amen

 

Anne Fraley is rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in South Windsor, CT. A life-long dog-lover, she escapes the demands of parish life volunteering for animal rescue groups. She occasionally succeeds at reviving her blog at reverent irreverence. Her prayer today is published at https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/06/24/monday-prayer-214/

 

 

Fear, God's Faithfulness, Home, Lostness, Psalm 139

Lost

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When our Jonathan was a toddler, we took a trip to the mountains of North Carolina. Not a child who ever liked his car seat, his reaction on this trip was far worse than usual with a great deal of squirming, fussing and whining. All of a sudden, he cried out in a panicked voice, “I don’t know where my home is!”

Aha! That was the emotional issue at play here. Jonathan had lost his sense of home and the safety and comfort his home gave him. All of us lose our sense of home at times, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. From experience, I can attest to the fact that losing home is a trauma. Years ago, a house fire destroyed parts of our home and many of our belongings. We were displaced for months waiting on the house to be restored and live-able, and in that time, I experienced a great deal of unease and anxiety.

And then there’s the fear of getting lost, for me an irrational fear that simply comes over me at times. It’s a feeling of panic when I feel as if the people and places that mean “home” for me are out of my reach, and I am impossibly and hopelessly lost. For instance, the simple joy of walking in a corn maze terrifies me. So I suppose I must admit to having a phobia just as real as the one Jonathan had when he lost home. 

Some of the most beautiful, comforting words in all of scripture are the words of the Psalmist in the 139th Psalm. I can almost imagine these words coming from a person who knows what losing home feels like. His message to us, and even to himself is this: “It is not possible for me to be lost. No matter where I travel — from one end of my world to other worlds far away — I am not lost. For there is One who holds me fast.”

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.

Amen.

 

 

 

Beauty of Nature, Challenge, Courage, Discovering, journey, life, Lostness, Moon

Freedom on the Journey and Hope Along the Way

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To live without roads seemed one way not to get lost.
— Naomi Shihab Nye

It might be good advice — traveling a journey without roads. It would eliminate the decisions one must make when roads cross. It would eliminate the uncertainty when the path ahead seems unclear. We wouldn’t have to plot a course and explore all the possible routes. We might experience freedom on the journey that we have never before experienced.

I have to admit, though, I am a person who is all about road metaphors for life. I am a lover of walking labyrinths and walking the sacred path. I am constantly assessing my journey by the many kinds of roads I travel. I rejoice on smooth, friendly roads and despair on rough, ominous roads. I walk my path with trust, experience courage and wise discernment at the crossroads, and believe that I will end my journey in hope.

So the idea of “off road” living is a new, and somewhat disconcerting, prospect. And yet I am intrigued by the quote of Naomi Shihab Nye, “To live without roads seemed one way not to get lost.”

So I spent a few minutes pondering her words. With no roads, we might find ourselves discovering new places and making new paths, never fearing that we’re lost, but leaning into the exploration with anticipation. Without roads, we might wander aimlessly, passing beside astounding wonders we have not seen before. Without roads, we might find ourselves leaning into the beauty we find on our uncharted and circuitous path, beauty once hidden from us because we stayed on the road. Without roads, we might experience freedom on the journey.

The poet says that without roads, we don’t get lost. That may be a plus for us, since the fear of getting lost keeps us from the sheer, unbridled joy of exploration. Once we have dismissed that fear, we are free to roam, to discover and to observe all the beauty that lives off the path.

I think Naomi Shihab Nye’s thought about the lack of roads is an interesting parable. Its a parable about real life, and the best lesson from it may be that it is our fear keeps us from the full and fresh experiences we could embrace. When we stick too close to the roads we have always travelled, we will experience only what exists on the roads and directly beside them, nothing more. But when we have thrown off the fear that holds us hostage, courageously take leave from our familiar path, and venture into the wilderness to wander freely, we might see and experience more than we ever thought possible.

I’m not so sure this will work for me, but I plan to try some wandering that takes me far beyond my safe path. I plan to experience the emotion that comes from the fear of being lost. I plan to allow myself to be forced to place all my trust in where my heart takes me, and in God, who always gives grace to wanderers.

So the poet says I will not be lost, because there are no roads on my journey. I will not know what things I will see until they emerge before me. I may not know where I am, but I will not be lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye wrote another poem that seems to speak to this very unfamiliar concept of traveling life’s journey without familiar paths to count on. These are her words:

Where we live in the world is never one place.
Our hearts, those dogged mirrors,
keep flashing us moons before we are ready for them.

― Naomi Shihab Nye

What does it mean that our hearts “keep flashing us moons before we’re ready for them?” It sounds like a gift, that our hearts flash moons before us. It sounds like grace that, on our journey, we will see the wonder of God’s creation glowing above us in the night sky. We will be compelled to look up, gazing into a moon that changes constantly, reminding us of the waxing and waning of our lives and giving us hope to hold on to.

Thanks be to God for the freedom of the journey and the hope.

Change, Compassion, Gofts in Open Hands, grief, journey, Lent, Life Journeys, Life pathways, Lostness, Maren Tirabassi, Risk, Travel, Vulnerability, Wisdom

Rough, Broken Roads

5E982E74-6C78-42E3-BA27-C642528A9C0CI think often about roads, the roads that take people where they want to go, or not. I think with deep fondness about the terribly rough and broken roads we traveled in Uganda. The time was immediately after the horrific reign of Idi Amin that left the roads, and the entire country, in shambles. I remember the difficulty in traveling those rough, broken roads — washed out, bombed out, neglected for years.

I remember the fear of traveling those roads, the frightening military roadblocks, the pointed machine guns, the soldier’s demand for all that we carried in the vehicle and even the vehicle itself. I remember how some of our missionaries were left in the bush with their vehicle “confiscated” by the occupying army. I remember the roadblock murder of the dear Ugandan man who drove our mission’s supply truck.

I think of traveling a road in the middle of the night that led to my brother’s funeral, made rough by grief. I think of the rough road I traveled in leaving my home of 32 years for a new and unfamiliar place. I can never forget my rough road through serious illness and difficult recovery.

I think of roads that take people where they do not want to go — to war, to prisons, to rehabilitation centers, to the sites of natural disasters. I think about the roads in disaster areas that are simply gone.

I remember a song in a Christian musical of many years ago titled “Rough Old Roads.” It told of the rough roads Jesus walked. The song’s climactic moment gave us these words: “the road that was roughest of all to walk was the road that led to the cross.”

It is appropriate for us during Lent to recall the rough roads Jesus walked, rough for so many reasons: rejection, danger, soul temptation, angry crowds and lynch mobs, and ultimately the rough road that Jesus walked to the cross, to his death. To learn of his roads means that we get a glimpse of our own. The roads we all walk.

None of us can avoid walking the rough and broken roads that appear before us, but it is in traversing those roads that we learn who we are. Rough roads force us to take the hard and narrow way, and thus become who we must ultimately become. Roads can wind around so that we are lost, thus inviting us to take the risk of vulnerability required for an unknown and uncharted journey. Our roads teach and challenge us. When the road ahead of us is rough or broken, our commitment to stay the course results in wisdom. I call it wisdom from the journey. Our rough, broken roads make us stronger and more resilient. The rougher they are, the more we change and grow.

I could bore you with even more personal reflection about rough roads, but instead I want to share a moving poem written by Maren Tirabassi.* In the poem, she writes of broken roads and calls for a God who attends to all who find themselves on broken roads.

Here are Maren’s moving words:

I was praying this morning, God,
for all the people in Mozambique
and Malawi and Zimbabwe,
in the midst of the terrible losses
from cyclone Idai —
the deaths and injury and destruction,
the ongoing need for rescue

and I learned that the roads are broken.

I should have known —

the roads between towns
are impassable,
the bridges smashed, ports unusable.
Also those other paths —
electricity, telephone, Internet,
are gone as well.

And I went from that
flat-hand-on-the-newspaper prayer,
to the jail and my meeting
for spiritual care
and walked among others
with no access

and realized that journey
is not a parable for Lent
for these,
your children on the inside.

And so holy Valley-uplifter,
Rough-place-leveler,
I call you to attend
to all who suffer broken roads —

broken highways or heartways,
or sometimes minds that cannot
find a way out of whatever
dead end they are in,

and teach me to pay attention, too,
put my back against
every road block,
become an opener of the way home.

 

May God make it so. Amen.

 

*Maren served as a pastor in the United Church of Christ for thirty-seven years in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and is the author or editor of 20 books. You may read more of her creative and soulful writing at her blog, “Gifts in Open Hands” at the following link:

https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2019/03/21/10101/

 

 

Contemplation, Courage, Darkness, Discovering, Fear, Forest, life, Lostness, Nature, Spiritual growth

Finding Ourselves Lost

C61646A1-BE50-4157-A898-E77F1FF191AABecause I have no sense of direction at all, I have an irrational fear of getting lost. Do not tell me to go north or south. I will have no idea how to do that. You must instead say something like, “When you see McDonalds on the right, go past it. Then go past Wendys, Burger King and Barbaritos. Look just past Barbaritos, but on the other side of the road, and you’re there.” It’s a convoluted way of making sure I don’t lose my way. And if one of those fast food places were to close down, I’m lost. 

So as I am contemplating the fear of being lost, I find in my email this morning a meditation by Richard Rohr entitled, “Practice: Being Lost.” I wanted to slip right past that meditation, as I do not need or want to practice being lost. But something held me there, captive to this bizarre meditation that described being lost as a spiritual practice.

Psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin* highly recommends wandering in nature and experiencing the great gift of “finding ourselves lost.” He calls it “Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche,” and he means that we should find ourselves lost both literally in nature and metaphorically in the midst of life’s changes.

His words remind me that at least four conditions contribute to finding oneself lost: density that conceals paths, obstacles in the pathways that force you to detour, cluelessness about direction, and darkness. I would not like finding myself in a dense forest with boulders blocking some of the pathways, hopelessly lacking any sense of direction after a few detours, and knowing that the sun is setting and darkness will make everything even worse.

And yet . . . finding myself lost as a spiritual discipline seems to be beckoning to me to enter. As a lost wanderer, I might just learn to look deeply into the face of my aloneness and discover what truly gives me life and what doesn’t. I could discover inspiration, belonging, strength, resilience and wisdom in my own company — all by myself — not knowing which way to turn. Knowing only that God will meet me there and that I can “be” who I am, right where I am, lost in a discovering moment.

As David Whyte writes:

When wandering, there is immense value in “finding ourselves lost” because we can find something when we are lost, we can find our selves . . . 

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.*   

I would like to be brave enough to give it a try in some spring wood where the verdant trees form a deep, dark canopy of privacy over my soul and where aloneness takes over my psyche. A place where God will meet me, where I can fully embrace finding myself lost, and where I might just find a few sparkles of light along the way.

I have to admit that this is a terrifying prospect for me. Darkness in a dense forest, alone, lost and scared . . . I’m just not sure about that. So maybe I should settle for the swing in my yard that’s just on the edge of the woods. Safer. More acceptable. And God will meet me there, too.

*Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (New World Library: 2003), 234, 248-249, 263.

*David Whyte, “Fire in the Earth,” Fire in the Earth, Many Rivers Press: 1992, 8.