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.

 

Church of Woods and Water

Last Sunday I worshipped at the Church of Woods and Water.  The church is located on the upper reach of the Charles River.

The Charles is a hard used, inspiring waterway which runs 80 miles from its headwaters in Hopkinton to the mouth of Boston harbor. The drainage is 312 square miles.

For 350 years this iconic river has provided sustenance to Native Americans, inspired poets and been hard used by industry.  The Rock classic, ‘Dirty Water’ by the Standells says it all https://www.bing.com/search?q=song+dirty+water+by+the+standells&form=EDNTHT&mkt=en-us&httpsmsn=1&refig=cf18a1912bf84fffb481c8a6ae04ea85&sp=5&qs=RI&pq=dirty+water+by+the+&sk=AS4&sc=5-19&cvid=cf18a1912bf84fffb481c8a6ae04ea85#CA!VideoFavoritesAddItemEvent

For the last 40 plus years, since Richard Nixon (bless him) signed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the Charles along with a host of other rivers, once used as a toxic dumping ground, has gradually become cleaner.  Insects, fish, birds and mammals have returned.

The woods, water and soil have slowly healed.   As a Christian, the theology of grace, restoration, resurrection come to mind.

Sure there are elements of toxic metals that remain in the soil and silt.  Points of pollution from fertilizer, to engine oil still find a way to the water.  But the Charles and rivers like it are much cleaner than anyone thought possible before the Clean Water Act was signed.

It is ironic, that Donald Trump is in the process of gutting the EPA by 30% and refers to Climate Change as a ‘hoax’.  The Charles, this fragile waterway which has come so far, is at risk of returning to the toxic pre-Nixon era.  That this newest Republican doesn’t respect the vision of his Republican predecessor is painful to see.

But last Sunday I put my worries for the river’s future aside (if for a few hours).  With my wife Tricia we slipped our kayaks into a stretch of the upper Charles and paddled upstream for several miles.  There were few signs of other humans… a few canoes, a few houses, the muffled sound of a distant car.

For the most part our companions were flowering dogwood trees, old growth white pine, maples, oaks, witch hazel. Birds were in full throat calling to mates, building nests.  Beaver lodges stood as sentinels along the bank.

As we paddled we were accompanied by the wisdom of prophets and mystics.  I heard Isaiah say ‘listen and your soul will live’….I heard the Trappist monk, Thomas Keating ‘the Creator’s first language is silence…everything else is a poor translation’….I even heard Martin Luther: “The sound of birds, wind in the trees, the fragrance of flowers, the mud, rocks, water…all are Logoi, ‘little words’ from the Creator.”  https://www.facebook.com/kent.harrop/videos/10212994239355454/

As dusk approached we allowed the current to return us.  We loaded our car, synched the ropes and left the river.

Soon the Church of Woods and Water will call out to my soul.  I’ll need to return to the woods and  water to be restored, to be healed, to be blessed.

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.

 

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.

God’s First Language

Picture 016

Thomas Keating, the Catholic monk and mystic writes:

“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God.”

When I was in high school, a teacher said to me: “I must have the radio or television on at home. I can’t stand to be by myself.” At the time I found that curious. But the older I became the more I understood what he was saying. To be alone is to face what is going on in one’s mind and heart and that can be a scary place to be.

Yet all religious traditions, including Christian, reminds us that in being quiet we not only sit with our thoughts of light or darkness, but we make room to be met by God. Keating reminds us that in order to hear God we must first be quiet. Rather than silence being a place of discomfort, faith reminds us that it can be a place of meeting where we are reminded by our Creator that we are known and cherished.

Sometimes we need to be quiet to gain perspective. In our busy lives how then do we listen? Keating suggests Contemplative Prayer: ‘Each day carve out 20 minutes to be silent…allow thoughts to pass like boats on a river without judgement….select a sacred word (hope, love, peace etc.) to help focus you when you become distracted’.

In time the ancient monks and mystics tell us, we will begin to hear the Creator’s voice in the midst of the silence. In doing so we find ourselves no longer fleeing silence but embracing it as a place where we are met by the Source of all that is good, lasting and true.