Found this recently while dredging through some Google Docs folders. It’s from a church service I collaborated on during January 2009, the theme of which was “peace and quiet.” Somehow I ended up talking about the need to occasionally punch another person. If you’re interested, read on …
When Yvon and I started wrestling with this service, I went looking for silence, and my searching took me (figuratively) to places like the One Square Inch of Silence, which is located in a rain forest in Washington State, or the anechoic chamber in Minneapolis, Minnesota, designated by the Guinness of Book of World Records as the quietest place on earth.
But that felt wrong. What we’re talking about isn’t really silence—what we are looking for isn’t an absence of noise. It’s time and space in which we can hear ourselves, others, and the world, deeply and meaningfully.
NPR’s This American Life recently had a sort of essay on the failings of silence as objective. Ten years ago, a bunch of commuters on the busy Boston-to-Washington DC route asked Amtrak for one car in which people would pipe down—no cell phones, no games, no yammering. Thus was born the quiet car. In the essay, a producer for the show explained her transformation from gleeful journeyer to self-righteous, mirthless protector of the quiet.
Midway through the piece, she says, “Everything I need to know about the appeal of fascism I am learning from the quiet car.” Later: “I am quiet and good; other people are loud and rude. I am the beleaguered hero in my own world, as if my quiet car demeanor is a gift I give the world rather than a choice I make for my own reasons.”
The lesson: quiet is a path, not a destination. What we are looking for is Deep Connection, Deep Meaning.
And it isn’t easy. Modern Life is loud and distracted. Never have there been more ways to get bumped off or just plain avoid the task at hand. And we all know these two dread words: Too busy. Too busy to help. Too busy to take on additional responsibilities. Too busy to think straight. Too busy to feel deeply. Too busy.
And I can only speak for my house, but this might ring true for you as well. We are at best unwitting collaborators in the cult of busy. At worst, active accomplices. We do lots of directed stuff, and expect our kids to do lots of directed stuff. Just yesterday I was installing blinds in a bedroom and watched through the window as one of my boys tossed a football to himself in the backyard. He was obviously playing out something in his head. Virginia came by, watched and said, “What’s he doing?” I knew: the same thing I did with about one-third of my waking hours as a kid.
I’m glad I was a kid when I was.
When we over-fill our calendars, when we refuse to prioritize, when we don’t protect time for reflection and connection, we are losing something crucial to our spiritual health.
Now, I know three people are going to come to me after service and give me a talking-to, how their obligations outstrip their time and energy. And granted, I’m making a point up here, and our circumstances are not completely of our own choosing. But I’ll tell you a quick story.
One of my sons was feeling put upon by his schoolmates, one in particular who was saying hurtful things to him. He was being bullied, and he was crying to his mom a couple times a week. And I told him this: I know you’ve had a hard time with a couple kids lately, and I want you to know this—you have my permission to do what it takes to end this. If you can talk to him and end this, fine. And if that means you have to kick someone’s butt, so be it. I then spent the next 10 minutes explaining in fantastic detail how one goes about winning a fight: How to telegraph one’s intentions. How to work up to an emotional crescendo. How to not wait for the opening bell. How to finish it. When the crying will come. My son sat transfixed—I don’t think he could believe what I was saying. But he listened the whole way through.
Now, was I telling him to step off that school bus and fight? Not exactly. What concerned me was that he was feeling as if he had no control over the things happening to him. I wanted him to understand that he could negotiate the terms of his middle school life.
And so I tell you a similar thing: You have to negotiate time in your life for deep reflection, deep connection, and deep understanding. Because if you don’t, no one else will. As you are all adults, I don’t think I need to explain that there are better ways to do this than punching somebody in the nose as they step off a school bus, but the charge is the same—you are the protector of your Personal Time. You create The Quiet. And you need to practice creating The Quiet and living, at least for a few moments, in The Quiet.
And you need to practice creating The Quiet, or it will wither. Well, what does that mean, to practice? To me, you practice meditation in the same way a quarterback practices football plays, that an actress practices her lines, so that when the situation is much more difficult, he or she can fall back upon that practice and accomplish what is intended—whether that is a touchdown pass, or a laugh line, or a fleeting shot at self-understanding.
And so my quest for silence in the end becomes a quest instead for the practice of listening, of connection and listening—hearing myself, hearing you, hearing the world.
And so, I invite you into a short period of silence, in this safe place, to relax into the moment, to feel your body, to feel the presence of others around you, to note the thoughts that fill your head when it’s been emptied … whatever it is that comes to you. Let the silence be our practice for this time.