Sheer Silence: Part Four

This is the fourth installment, where we explore a key question:  In the midst of the busyness and noise of daily life, where can we turn for perspective and refreshment?

This question is particularly compelling during the holiday season.  The demands and expectations can be overwhelming and unrealistic.  The busyness can drown out the underlying spiritual essence of the season.

Within my tradition, Advent marks a four-week journey, ushering us towards the promise of the Christ child and the hope He represents.   My Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate Hanukkah, marking the eight-day festival of light as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Still others find meaning in the rhythm of the seasons. The Winter Solstice marks the longest night (honored with fire, dance and reflection).

Each of these ritualized events create cosmic space for a meeting of awe, wonder, gratitude and humility. A space which reminds us of the enormity and mystery within which we find our place.

What then can we do to step away from that which distracts us?   How can we enter more fully  into the cosmic search which the various religious traditions invite us?

Walking through the woods at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center, during a silent retreat for Advent.

Here are a few suggestions:  Carve out 30 minutes each day to simply be quiet.  The premise is that in silence we become open and are met by a Source of wisdom, which is greater than oneself.

Be mindful.  For a period of time each day, whatever you are doing, do so mind fully.  Be fully present to where you are and who you are with.  Imagine what happens when you are fully present to your child, to your beloved, to nature, to ___.

Be grateful.  Studies show that a leading indicator of happiness is an intentional practice of being grateful.  Consider making a list each day of at least three things you are grateful for.

Be kind.  Each day offer at least one-act of kindness, large or small.  Kindness expands our heart and mind.

Be unplugged.  This one is particularly challenging.  Recent studies show that many of us are addicted to our smartphones.  Indeed, social media platforms are designed to train us to spend more and more time on our devices.   A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania https://www.thecollegefix.com/college-students-happier-when-they-limit-social-media-campus-roundup-ep-36/ indicated that college students who limit themselves to 30 minutes on social media each day, saw a significant increase in their sense of mental well-being and connection to others.

This sacred season, whatever your spiritual path may be…may you carve out space to simply be and listen for the wisdom that is yours.  In the mid 19th century, the theologian Soren Kierkegaard said: ‘God is always present, simply waiting to be found’.

May it be so, for those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

 

 

Keep Open, Look Closely


“The mystics invite us to remember what we all too often forget: That great mystery we call God, is everywhere present in the world, suffusing creation with the being of the Holy. Once in a while, if we keep our eyes open, if we look closely enough, something amid the familiar reveals itself, offers itself to us in a new way. What we know, what we have learned, is taken apart. Is remade. Remakes us.”
~ Jan Richardson, Source: In the Sanctuary of Women

I’ve been exploring this quote from various vantage points this Lenten season. Lent is a 40 day season in the Christian calendar (exclusive of Sundays) that guides people of faith towards the promise of Easter. It is a season for intentional reflection looking for the sacred within the familiar.

Lent invites us to let go of that which distracts us so as to become steeped in that which is eternal. Last week I gathered with an ecumenical group for the purpose of listening. It’s sad but true, that Christians don’t always play well in the sand box together. It is a hopeful sign when various branches of the Christian tradition gather for a shared purpose. The method we chose is Centering Prayer a simple yet profound form of becoming quiet so to hear what (paradoxically) can only be heard in silence.

Thomas Keating a Trappist monk re-introduced this ancient practice of Centering Prayer. He invites us to:

‘Spend 20 – 30 minutes sitting in silence. Choose a ‘sacred word’ that will help you return to silence when distracted. Our word can be ‘God, Jesus, Abba’, or a feeling word ‘love, peace, hope, quiet’. Centering Prayer is like a deep-sea diver who slowly slips into the water and sinks deeper and deeper. When a distracted thought inevitably arises, it is as if the diver bobs back to the surface. It is then we quietly speak/think our sacred word, which allows us to sink yet again into the depth of silence.’

It is in this silence says Keating that we are able to ‘hear God’s voice speaking into the depth of our being’. Being quiet can be a counter cultural act. In the midst of our busy schedules and over stimulated brains, quiet offers us respite and renewal. For me there is something powerful about shared gathered silence. I can’t quantify it or measure it but as the Quakers would put it ‘a sense of common ground emerges that can only be found through silence.’

Perhaps you reading this have no faith tradition or are from another faith tradition. For you too the invitation awaits, that in silence we discover ‘something within the familiar’ that otherwise may have been missed.

Where do you go to be quiet? Perhaps walking your dog, savoring your morning coffee, working in your garden, hiking in the woods, sitting in a church/temple/mosque, walking on the beach? Where do you go to move beyond distractions and simply be? For me a favorite place is kayaking on the water, sometimes simply floating, becoming immersed literally and metaphorically in my surroundings.

Kayak lone paddler photo

Wherever your quiet journey takes you, to solitary places or community, I hope that you too hear a voice of blessing that can only be received in silence. Travel well.

Note: If you live on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the 4th Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. a community wide group meets to practice centering prayer. For location contact me at kharrop@fbcbeverly.org.

Paddling in the Rain

Several years ago I climbed into a rickety 1946 de Havilland Float Plane for a two-hour flight from Petersburg, Alaska for Tebenkoff Bay in the Tongass Wilderness in Southeastern Alaska. I was dropped off at an island with ten other people I’d never met. The rain was falling in sheets. We would be kayaking from island to island and camping.

Our guide brought us together on the beach as the rain fell. He said: “You are dressed for the rain. This rain will be your constant companion for most of the next week. It is up to each of you how you view this reality. You can complain or you can embrace it. The choice is yours.”

We chose to embrace the rain. For the next week we would kayak from island to island with rain as our constant companion. We had a great time.

I was thinking of that experience yesterday as I kayaked with my wife Tricia and friends on Chebacco Lake in Massachusetts. It was October and the colors were in their New England glory if muted somewhat by a steady rain.

photo (4)

Having been on that lake in the summer with water ski boats racing past us, this day it was just our little group. Apparently most people prefer the sun. The gift of rain brought us quiet.

Slowly we paddled the circumference of that lake. Our only companions were ducks, ravens, hawks, occasionally a rising fish and of course the sound of rain.

In our busy lives where our schedules guide us and our minds race, it was a healthy antidote to be on the water. Our group’s age range was mid 30’s to mid 70’s. Gliding on the water any age difference fell away and we were simply fellow paddlers embracing the rain and the sounds that come with silence.

3000 years ago a prophet named Isaiah said: “Listen and your soul will live.” All we need do is slow down and listen. There is no better place to listen than being on the water in the rain.