|Photo by David McSpadden|
At Dayspring last Friday night, we entered the Great Silence after dinner, around 9pm. We kept it until 10am Sunday morning. In between, we could walk the lovely grounds, journal, read, pray, sit, eat, sleep, anything as we felt led. But we could not speak.
Me and silence, 2000 to present:
For a time, music was my silence, my retreat, my freedom. No words needed to explain myself, no people to explain myself to. Just me and eighty-eight keys in a small soundproof room, playing it out.
During a day of silence last fall, I breathed for the first time in a month. Then, I scribbled anger and disappointment at myself, all over my journal.
I am the awfulest person in the world at getting up in the morning. But just before dawn (especially in early spring) is my most favorite time to be silent, alone, alert.
Once on a technology fast, I experienced road rage such as I have never experienced before, until I pulled over to the side of the road to eat a peanut butter sandwich and make growling noises--yes I am that insane--since I couldn't turn on the radio to tune it out.
Silence is boring. Silence is edifying. Silence is restorative. Silence is terrifying. I crave silence and run to escape it all at once. In silence, I see God. I see beauty. I also see myself.
I came to Dayspring expecting something. Something angry, and difficult, and cathartic. Something with tears and a rehashing of old disappointments warring within me and (just maybe) a profound new insight that would change everything. I came in expecting that the silence would be, at its core, hard work.
So, anticipating the hours ahead, my first task when silence began was to read over every journal entry I've written since I started divinity school. It only took about 20 minutes. There weren't many, The entries there were consisted of wrangling and wrestling and anxiety and questions. Questions about how to approach my vocation, my marriage, my spiritual life, my relationships. How to process the painful things in my past.
God, I know I can't handle all of it this weekend, so please guide me to what it is you want me to wrestle with.
In the morning morning, after a deliciously fresh breakfast and a run through forested country roads, I was lying flat on my back, stretched out in the cool hallway when it struck me, clear as day, clear as the title of the weekend's program: "The Gift of Divine Time."
This weekend is not for you to wrestle. Having named the questions and anxieties last night is enough. Now, let go--not in avoidance or denial but in trust--and commend all into the hands of the Spirit. Now, simply enjoy. This silence is for you a gift.
Something shifts, and I am in the present.
It is a gift that I am here. The sun and the woman in the rocking chair next to me on the porch and the rain and the bed and the fresh food--all is gift.
It is a gift that I am asleep by ten.
It is a gift that I am here in community without needing to explain myself, to worry over my words. I confess I may enjoy people more when we can simply be together, no words.
It is a gift when the storm hits Saturday night, and I am sitting on the porch looking out at the lightning and the rain that has blurred my vision of the horizon and the wind that is making the trees sway violently. I startle when the first tree branch falls, but then I grin, glee splattered over my face as the wind blows the rain under the porch and against my skin. I stare down the storm until it passes, and retire for the evening.
It is a gift that I am running on these rolling hills just before breakfast. I don't want to turn around, I want to keep going, but I know my knees and I know my lack of fitness and further I know that there is more gift--scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, a cinnamon raisin bagel--all waiting for me back at the lodge.
It is a gift that I am for the first time walking a prayer labyrinth, like an interior pilgrimage toward God, and it is a gift that the spider on the porch is spinning her web, slowly, deliberately, in concentric circles, like a labyrinth.
I take in all the gifts, and somehow in taking in the gifts I feel all that is un-gift begin to unclench in me. It is not gone. There is work yet to do. But it is unraveling, and I think maybe it has even been instructive. I think maybe I am learning from this silence to be present in each step of the journey, to trust that I, even with all my noise and junk and wandering--am on a path with God.
It is a gift that I am sitting before the lily pond where the geese go for rest, and I am reading over and over Mary Oliver's "Morning Poem" (look it up) and she is telling me that notwithstanding my sometimes-leaden spirit there is "somewhere deep within you/ a beast shouting that the earth/ is exactly what it wanted" and she is challenging me to dare to be happy, to accept this as gift, to love the earth and the community and the place God has given me.
For this moment, at least, I wholeheartedly do.
You will have entered, perhaps, with joy.
On a sure path to the center.
You will wind and double back enough times you feel
you might have returned to the place you started,
as though moving backwards.
This only means you are in the thick of it.
Then one day, having relaxed into the rhythm of your steps,
perhaps without noticing it--
you will find yourself there.
Where? A rock, on which is laid a feather, a stone,
some broken pottery.
It is not, perhaps, what you expected to find here.
You find yourself looking outward, at all that impelled you.
From the rock, it appears beautiful.
You want to run to it.
Close your eyes, breathe in gratitude.
For waves of green. For each bird
chronicling your journey.
Each stone leading your path.
Then, a moment after it has been too long,
you will begin the slow journey out, which is
perhaps the most important part.
And when having made your final turn,
you find in your pocket the tiny shard
of pottery, you will understand that you
must turn toward the center