Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stilllness. One of the doors
into the temple.
~ Mary Oliver
Christmas Eve was strange. Each Sunday after the announcements and before the offering plate goes around the rector invites “anyone to come forward who would like to make a donation to Heifer International marking special times and moments in our lives.” On Christmas Eve I made a donation in celebration of the now official divorce. I felt light. Airy. But as the service drew to a close, loneliness set in. Without Cole around the house felt too quiet. Too empty. My head too loud. Too full.
In the afternoon I met a friend and we walked the trail around Bond Lake. Just that one hour made the silence in my house bearable. I still watched TV for a good portion of the day, but for one hour after returning from the walk I sat in silence with a cup of tea. I didn’t read or write. I just sat, pushing myself to be present to my painful thoughts and occasionally refocusing them on gratitude. I sat, listening for God.
I don’t know that I heard God. Not in any clear or dramatic way. But I made room.
We have entered an interesting congruence between nature, culture, and the liturgical calendar. The shortest days of the year are behind us and light ever so slowly returns to the world as we dig in for the incubation of winter. Our western culture presses us toward goals for the New Year. The liturgical 12 days of Christmas celebrate the post-partum space between birth and the visit of the magi. Between incarnation and gifts given and received.
Now is a potent time for silence. “Silence has two functions,” writes Sister Joan Chittister. “The first effect of exterior silence is to develop a sense of interior peace. The second value of silence is that it provides the stillness that enables the ear of the heart to hear the God who is ‘not in the whirlwind.’”
The cultivation of silence is of primary importance to St. Benedict. And it is of primary importance to me. I rise early in hopes of getting a few moments of silence before Cole announces his exuberant presence to the day. I consciously arrange my schedule when he’s gone to make room for stillness.
But here’s a secret. Even when I’m being quiet, when I’m not speaking a word to anyone, when the TV and music are off, there is still noise. It’s in my head as I obsess over interactions or worry about the future or script conversations with people not in the room. Writing, journaling, doing some of the dishes by hand all help lower the volume on my thoughts so I can listen for God with the ear of my heart.
During these sacred days of Christmas, during the last breath before the New Year, I encourage you to take some time for silence and focused reflection. Pick up your journal or planner or note pad. Reflect with gratitude on where you’ve been and jot down your visions and longings for the future. Listen with the ear of your heart for the desires planted by God. Breathe on them. Imagine them coming to life. Feel them. Taste them. Then let them go. Remain still and enter the temple.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Photo © Melinda Thomas