The Sound of Silence

THERE ARE THREE occasions I recall being enraptured by silence.

  • In several forests actually: the box canyon at Reimer’s, a stand of Scots Pine near Tyndrum, a switchback on the South Loop, and the backside of Wheatley at Pedernales. Three of four were within a chain (66 feet) of an artesian spring and all heavy with the feeling of mist, which now seems peculiar.
  • The old mine at French Henry: a 1/4 mile underground, our friendly tour guide invited us to “turn off your headlamps and enjoy complete silence for 60 seconds” – as a prank – before CRATERING a gigantic boulder into an abandoned ore cart, flashing the tunnel with flint & steel lightning sparks – ha! Jolting yes and mildly funny in retrospect. We heard that deafening silence again at Natural Bridge, Longhorn, and Cheyenne Mountain. It’s only starting to sound familiar – so don’t run from it.
  • The sound booth at Jack’s Valley: used to test microphones, headphones, and satellite components where the physics prof explained, “this was designed to be one of the quietest rooms in the world.” Yelling was absorbed straight to nowhere within and beyond the baffled walls, and the ‘negative pressure’ made it feel like your heart was exploding from your ribs! Stepping back into the hall was like crawling down from the attic mid-summer.

You may have experienced this consuming embrace of that resounding hush too. It’s anything but emptiness and quieter than a canoe at rest or morning walk across campus. On those occasions, the heron rises to shake her wings as a distant conversation skips across the crystal open, with our wake’s trickle a gentle reminder of our eventual trajectory. This type of calm is different than silent prayer even, oft complemented by shifting feet and sniffling noses plus rustling, jingling, squawking, and the other pleasant murmurations of life.

Imagine peeling back the layers of background noise: the humming fluorescent ballasts, whirring laptop fans, whooshing traffic behind glass, the jazzy Top 40, panicky questions, you’ve got mail, podcasts in earbuds, and muffled compressors. Revealing a deeper kind of tangible silence, like swimming through a sea of thin oil. If you’ve found yourself wading into it you understand: no cicadas, no cooing doves, no chattering of the mind even. It’s odd, and seems justifiably unnatural. What did our elders tell us about “chirping insects going silent in the presence of danger?”

That’s enough
We can go back now, right?
and a hand signal goes up
Wait – don’t be afraid

LINGER HERE just a smidgen longer than seems comfortable to notice:

  • you’re becoming aware of your ambient blood pressure coursing through the thin veneer of your eardrums
  • a hear-raising whisper tunes past your stereocilia like a breeze
  • the subdued droning of mother earth seems almost surfable
  • is my breathing distracting anyone? it sounds so loud
  • you’re suddenly perplexed to actually hear the valves of your heart clicking open and shut – lub dub, lub dub
  • cl-cl-click, cl-cl-click
  • knock knock knock

Most of us have never experienced the eye of a hurricane, a cease fire, the aftermath of an earthquake — all likely to evoke similar phenomena with gratitude for the most absurd kind of peace. A moment and sometimes a moment more, tension dissolves into a singularity that’s a tangible memento of the miracle that holds us together inside here within all this. Maybe that’s what the universe hears when we’re sleeping too – or right after waking us up – like when you first took my hand. I heard it even more recently when we paused on the phone:

what do I do next?
what a question – ha
then for a minute or three
the sacred other happened

Surrounded by an urge to cry and burst forth in awe simultaneously, I decided to search my computer drawer for that old headset so I could get your voice into both ears and more of my brain as often as possible.

  • Artists say, “creativity happens on the edge of chaos” – you’re a masterpiece
  • “All who wander are not lost,” reminds Tolkien – some are exploring
  • Plato implies, “you almost have to see to believe” – and you will
  • Frederick Buechner confesses, “when I’m at a loss of words I tend to pause, look down to the left, and listen for that inner voice; holding that posture, the words inevitably come that I could never have imagined on my own” – in full agreement with ethos and pathos
  • Parker Palmer assures, “our founders designed the first system of government where tension is not the enemy of social order, but properly held in the forum of public debate, becomes the engine of a more perfect union” – the right relationship prevails over being right
  • and Phyllis Tickle chuckles, “I’m not out to save the world, just to be part of it”
  • easier said than done perhaps

We’re entering a season of multiple tensions as we speak. Rather than forfeiting all in frustration or avoidance with a surrendering plea that “it’s just convoluted”, know it’s entirely healthy and acceptable to start with a moment of silence in the spirit of all new beginnings. Words will come in their own sweet time.

“and they came to listen” – Luke 15:1

Acoustic: Up & Up
Artist: Coldplay, A Head Full Of Dreams (2016)

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence” –  Leonardo da Vinci


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