Sheer Silence: Part Three

This is the third 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 has been particularly relevant in the midst of the political dysfunction and rancor that takes place in Washington D.C on a daily basis.  This past week I couldn’t take any more.  I realized that I was internalizing the debate going on (particularly around the hearings for Judge Bret Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the heartbreaking testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford).

I realized I needed to turn  off the television news programs and head for the water.  For me the water is a place of refuge.  A place to slow down, reflect and get some perspective.

So I loaded up my kayak and put in on the Ipswich River.  It was early October, cool, cloudy.  I began to paddle.  The Ipswich is a meandering river which doesn’t allow you to hurry.  For seven miles I paddled….just me and my neighbors… egrets, herons, turtles, beaver and ducks.

 

With each dip of my paddle, I felt the tension in my shoulders begin to lessen and my breathing become easier, deeper.   I remembered the wisdom of John Muir, the Grandfather of the American conservation movement, and champion for the creation of national parks.

Muir said:

How true.  I paddled the Ipswich to lose my mind.  To let go of my worries, my anger, my sadness… for a while.  To remember to breathe deeply.  To look up and around and say ‘wow’ and ‘thank you’.   To ‘find my soul’.  To allow my soul to heal.

It has been said that working for the common good and confronting injustice and callousness is a marathon, not a sprint.  It requires an ability to persist, to endure, for the challenges never leave us.

Spending time being quiet (on a river, in your back yard, in a park) is essential for gaining perspective…for remembering to breathe and relax, if only for a while.  To open up to the wisdom of that great mystery we call ‘Spirit’.

I’m not an advocate for  permanently withdrawing from the chaos and complexity of our time.  We need good people of conscience to be informed, to speak out.  Now, as much as ever. Yet, I also know, that being quiet, resting, renewing is essential too.

I hope you find places to rest, to reflect, to be renewed.  As we know, life is a marathon and not a sprint.  Paddle well.

 

Sheer Silence: Part Two

In the midst of the busyness and noise of daily life, where can we turn for perspective and refreshment?  Is there an antidote from our seemingly relentless pace?

The answer is simple and profound: Practice being quiet.  Each day carve out space for rest and renewal.

What I’m suggesting is counter-cultural.  Be assured that the dominate culture will do everything in its power, subtle and overt, to get you back on the treadmill of busyness and noise.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  You and I have the power to make changes.  Here are three steps to help you experience the gift of silence:

First, begin with a question:  ‘Where can you go and what can you do, to help you to be quiet, to reflect and relax?”  The answers are personal.

Second, put your idea (s) into practice.  Carve out at least 30 minutes.  Consider when in the day you have time.  If you are a busy parent or working a demanding job, this may take some creative planning.  Then put your idea into practice.  Try something multiple times to give it a chance.

Here are a few ideas (once you’ve turned off your phone):  Go for a run or walk, play in your garden, savor a hot drink in a restful setting, yoga, tai chi, walk your dog, cocoon with your cat, stroll in a park, choose a brief reading to quiet your mind…the list is endless.

Third, focus on your breath. Take a deep relaxed breath in and let your breath out.  Slow and easy.  Relaxed breathing will drop your blood pressure and increase the amount of oxygen in your blood stream.  Physiologically your muscles will relax and you’ll think more clearly.

Lectio Divina at Independence Park Beach

Consider sharing the silence with others. Most religious traditions understand the power of shared silence.  For ten years, once per week, I’ve started my day with a small group for Lectio Divina (meditating on Scripture).   During the summer we meet at a local beach.  The group holds me accountable to show up and shared meditation affirms the importance of being quiet.  https://bustedhalo.com/ministry-resources/lectio-divina-beginners-guide

Thomas Keating the Trappist monk and mystic says: “God’s first language is silence.  Everything else is a poor translation.”   Keating understands that silence is not an end unto itself but a doorway through which we may sense God’s loving presence.

To be clear I am not a natural contemplative.  I’m an extrovert.  I get a rush out of being busy.  But I also know that there are gifts to be found in being quiet.

Being quiet offers perspective and a foundation upon which to stand, from which to live.  When we are over stimulated we lose perspective, become unbalanced, anxious.

I invite you to try the following for one month: Carve out 30 minutes a day to be quiet.  Do that which helps you slow down.  Focus on the relaxed rhythm of your breath…  After each week make a mental note as to what you like and don’t like about being quiet, make adjustments to find what works best for you.  At the end of one month, if you’d like, send me an email at kharrop@fbcbeverly.org and let me know how you’re doing.

I wish you well in being quiet.  It’s an acquired ability.  Be patient.  Enjoy.

 

Sheer Silence: Part One

We live in a world of busyness and noise.   Smart phones train us to respond to prompts.   Email and texts blur the line between our work and personal life.  The 24 hour news cycle means we are continually processing data.  Oftentimes we feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious.

In the midst of the busyness and noise where do we turn for perspective and refreshment?  Is there an antidote from this seemingly relentless pace?

The Bible tells the story of a man called Elijah.  Elijah was a Hebrew prophet who lived approx. 3000 years ago.  Elijah felt abandoned by his people and abandoned by God.  Elijah: “I alone am left and my enemies are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Into the story God speaks but not in the way Elijah expects:

God said: “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, the sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.

Such is the great paradox of this story.  It is not in the noise and fury of wind, earthquake or fire that God speaks.  Rather, in ‘the sound of sheer silence’.   The paradox of being able to hear what is truly important in the midst of quiet.

Quiet…silence…creates emotional and spiritual space within which we can listen for and get in touch with what matters.  The countercultural call remains the same.  To make space for  quiet.  Space to simply be.

The truth is that many of us fear silence.  We fear the loss of control.  We prefer being busy.  Many of us are propelled by an old  joke:  ‘Don’t just stand there, do something!’

We do something, anything, to give us a sense of purpose.  Even if the ‘something’ isn’t the right thing or the healthiest thing to do.  Busyness and noise as an end unto itself.

Elijah knew that what truly matters comes not in the earthquake, wind or fire.  Truth and  value comes from silence.  Imagine.

In 2002 I participated in a ten-day silent kayak trip in the Tongass Wilderness, in Southeast Alaska.  We were introduced each day to meditation practices.  Meditation designed to help us quiet the busyness in our mind and simply be. Open to where we were and what was going on within me and around me.

Truth be told, for the first few days I struggled.  The silence was uncomfortable.  I had so many things to say.   Chaotic thoughts or feelings I wanted to flee from.  But by day three I felt myself shift…where the silence became a gift.  A gift that invited me to become more aware and open… to rest and be restored  ‘in the sheer silence’.

Over the next few blogs I’d like to explore with you ways of entering into the sheer silence.  I invite you on a counter-cultural journey of becoming quiet.  We may well be surprised by where the journey takes us.

When General Patton Goes on Vacation

Many moons ago when I was young and foolish my wife and I took our two children and an unruly yellow lab named Sandy on vacation.  Then living in Oregon our vacation plan was to drive to Yellowstone National Park.

Being wrapped pretty tight at the time I wanted to maximize every moment.  I noticed that our two young children and a dog barely out of puppyhood were not keeping to my schedule.

What was wrong with them?  We had places to go. Old Faithful was waiting on us.


On the third day of our trip, already behind schedule, I gathered the troops and channeling my inner Patton, informed them that speed was of the essence: “At 0800 we’ll have breakfast.  At 0900 we’ll begin to stow our gear and by 0930 we will commence to the route.”

My children ignored me.  The dog chased a rabbit.   My wife (who is smarter than me) took me aside and told me to ‘lighten up, smell the roses and stop being a pain in the caboose. We’ll get there when we get there’, she said.

Over the years I’ve gotten a little wiser.  I’ve grown to realize that a family is a small community that gets by with a mix of compromise, forgiveness and humor.

I’ve been thinking about this as Tricia and I get ready for vacation.  Both our daughters are grown and launched.  Soon we’ll fly to visit our oldest in LA.

‘What do you want to do’? she asks.  We reply: “We’re happy to sleep in, hang out and see your new neighborhood and talk.  We’re just happy to be with you.”

General Patton will not join us for vacation.  No forced marches.  We’re simply content to be with the people we love.

I hope you too get some down time this summer.  Time to simply be.

 

No Time for Silence

Some of us are better at being quiet than others.  Me?  I love to talk.  Give me a crowd and I become energized.

Yet, for a long time I’ve been aware of a part of me that yearns for silence.  When I was a boy I sought out quiet places, often in nature, to rest and reflect.  I remember finding refuge under a large Blue Spruce during a snow fall.  The flakes were large and quickly carpeted the boughs of the tree and floor of the forest.  Sound became muffled and I felt safe and fortunate to be in such a place at such a moment.

It has been a long time since I was that boy but I still remember the sound of silence.

Such is the tension I find within myself.  This enjoyment of conversation and being active…while an inner voice invites me to slow down and simply be.

Yesterday I arrived late to an organizing meeting of multi faith leaders in my community.  We were a mix of Buddhist, Jewish and Christian. We spent time exploring our purpose which took us down many paths.  As this was the early stage of our coming together we spent much of our meeting ‘muddling’ moving from topic to topic.

In the end we ran out of time and set another meeting to continue our search for clarity.

Our Buddhist host invited us to sit with her in silence.  Most had other items on their calendar and needed to move on.  I had items on my check list too but to my surprise decided to stay.

‘How long can you sit’, she asked? ‘I have ten minutes’, I replied.

So we sat.  In silence.  Facing the wall to minimize distractions.  She rang the Buddhist prayer bowl and we became quiet.

photo-zen-meditation

Ten minutes is nothing to a Zen Buddhist.  But for me this busy extroverted Baptist it was everything.  Those ten minutes of shared silence were like oxygen.

I felt my blood pressure drop and my breathing deepen.  When the bowl rang at the end of ten minutes I wanted, needed ten more.

Something happens in silence that doesn’t happen otherwise.  Ancient spiritual paths know this to be true:

‘Listen and your soul will live’. ~ Isaiah the prophet

‘Silence is a source of great strength.’ ~ Lao Tzu

‘The Creator’s first language is silence’. ~ Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and mystic

Perhaps by temperament you are naturally drawn to silence.  Perhaps like me you’re not.  But I know too that ones comfort with silence can be nurtured, cultivated.  In so doing we may find ourselves gradually going deeper and deeper, to hear a voice that paradoxically is silence itself.

 

Living in Sabbath Time

The concept of the Sabbath in the Judeo-Christian tradition is rooted in the Genesis creation story. God created the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day God rested and said ‘it is very good’. In the book of Exodus, Moses, God’s messenger, comes down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, one of those is the commandment to rest on the seventh day. This rest was not only for the landowner but also the servant, the slave and the animals. Every seventh year the land was to lie fallow so that the land could replenish itself. The idea was that people and the earth need time to rest, renew and reflect.

This was a particularly radical teaching during Biblical times when life was so hard. Most people were subsistence farmers and lived through bartering skills and resources to acquire a little money to purchase what you couldn’t make. It was a time intensive, physically and emotionally demanding process simply to survive. Into this pattern of surviving is instituted this commandment to rest. Implicit in this commandment is the acknowledgement that each person is a child of God and has inherent worth. Not only people, but animals and the earth itself need time to rest too.

Sabbath Time remains relevant. Billions of people in developing countries work in a subsistence economy simply to survive. A health ministry I work with in Nicaragua called AMOS, sends delegations from churches in North America to live, learn and serve in impoverished rural communities. I remember being awakened in a village called La Pimenta at 4 a.m.. You awoke to the crowing of roosters and hearing the sounds of women rising to build fires to cook as the men rose to go to the fields. The work was relentless before sunrise until the sun set. But on Sunday the pace slackened, meals still needed to be made but the pace was slower rooted in an ancient teaching to rest, renew and reflect.

In orthodox Judaism the Sabbath is a day for sexual intimacy. Time to be with one’s beloved. (This may make the Sabbath suddenly more interesting or more foreboding). My friend Rabbi Alison invites her community to begin Shabbat during the summer by gathering on a beach facing the ocean as the evening comes and the Sabbath begins. Each ritual a reminder that the Sabbath is different, special, set apart for a life-giving purpose.

In my Christian tradition, our concept of Sabbath is too often shoe horned into one hour for gathered worship then on with the day. This misses the point. Sabbath is not a prescribed hour but a 24 hour space to rest and renew. Whether you are religious or not, we all need Sabbath time. This is particularly true in developed nations with technology at our fingertips 24/7. It is so easy to become obsessed with the minutia of social media that we miss taking time to breathe, to savor.

When we live in Sabbath time, we slow down long enough to think and feel. Thich Nhat Hahn says it this way: ‘When I eat I know I’m eating. When I walk I know I’m walking’. Buddhists call this ‘practicing mindfulness’, a form of Sabbath keeping. As we live into a new year, I invite you to create your own Sabbath ritual. It may be rooted in a faith tradition or not. Regardless, we all need time to rest, renew and reflect. This is true whether we are a subsistence farmer in Nicaragua or a tech driven person living here in Beverly, Massachusetts. We each deserve time to catch our breath and even count our blessings. In an upcoming blog I’d like to explore ideas for creating rituals for rest and renewal. I’d like to hear your ideas too. Happy New Year and may we too live in Sabbath time.

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.