The Sound of Peace

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…through it all
we arise and shine,
for your light—our light—has come. It is always with us.

From an Advent prayer by Kristin Schmidt

The yearning for a better tomorrow is what we wait for in this season of Advent. We may only know our yearning when we are silent, waiting expectantly for the sound of peace.  

In her sermon found in this month’s Church of the Larger Fellowship magazine “Quest for Meaning,” the Rev. Peggy Clarke, who now serves the Community Church in New York, has this to say about silence:

Silence is the tool that brings us back from fragmentation into wholeness. So many of us live lives of division, running from one thing to the next, waiting for moments just to sit down. When we do, it’s often in front of a screen or while waiting for whatever’s next, possibly someone who’s late who’s also living a life of fragmentation. There’s an accepted state of constant semi-attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, the generalized noise of what goes on all the time around us or the volcano of words that crash on our computer screens with their attachments and links to more words and tweets and updates. This keeps us immersed in a flood of racket and words, a diffuse medium in which our consciousness is half-diluted: we are not quite thinking, not entirely responding. We are not fully present and not entirely absent; not fully withdrawn yet not completely available, leading us all into a state of semi-consciousness as we make our way through busy days. Silence is the healing balm that brings us back to ourselves and into right relationship with the world around us.

Winter, and especially the Advent season—the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas—naturally lend themselves to the pursuit of silence.

Learning to be silent, quiet, can become our spiritual practice, our place of hearing the sound of peace.

It should be natural in this season to rest in quiet in darkness, to hear what is in our hearts. 

Yet we may not welcome what nature brings in winter here where most of us live. I don’t always welcome the cold, the increased darkness, and the isolation that can come with winter. I certainly am not welcoming the continuing unending loss upon loss brought on by a virus rampant this dark season. Our ancestors would have described what we are experiencing as a particularly harsh winter.

Our ancestors did what they had to do to survive, huddling together, building big fires, making noise to scare away predators. 

Silence may be the last thing that not only our ancestors but also some of us now want to hear, having had too much already of that during this season of isolation, that we have been maintaining and still must for our safety.

Yet I welcome, as I know some of you also do, the profound silence that comes after a heavy snowfall, when all is so quiet.

I treasure that midwinter gift, hope for it to come again.

Years ago, I found myself outside the city of Chicago, at my best friend’s sister’s home. My best friend was about to marry her sweetheart. I was there with another close friend of ours and the family that lived in the house where we were staying and where the wedding would take place. The night before the big yet intimate event, it had snowed and snowed, blanketing the house, the trees, the grounds with a deep cover of white. The morning of that day, in that place, I still remember. There was such beauty. And it was so very, very quiet. 

Maybe you too have a memory of such a morning after a snowfall?

Annie Dillard, in her essay “A Field of Silence,” writes about a moment of profound silence she experienced while living for at time on an isolated farm in Maine. In that essay she says, “…the silence gathered and struck me. It bashed me broadside from the heavens above…”

Profound silence has a way of making us pay attention to the sacred, to that which anchors us to the universal and the deeply personal all at the same time.

That day of my best friend’s wedding at her sister’s home in the suburbs of Chicago, I was so struck by the beauty and the quiet that I wanted that moment never to end.

And ironically, I wanted to awaken everyone in the house and have them join me as witnesses to the silence. 

Of course, later when the others joined me, the silence was shattered.

It is deeply engrained in many cultural traditions that what we need to do is bring light, warmth, and noise into our homes to oppose the forces of winter. We hurry and rush to adorn trees, festoon our houses, hang lanterns and light candles. We light bonfires and gather around fireplaces. Societies have spent a lot of energy rejecting winter…

Michael Tino, from “Dark of Winter

So, it is with an awareness of paradox that I urge you to greet this advent season with light, the light we create, and the light we are created by. May we not try too hard to oppose the forces of nature. Let us those forces help us find time for silence. Maybe after a deep snow, before anyone else is awake, before the cell phone sounds, before the news is on, silence can be sacred.  

Make time for a solitary walk. Lock the bathroom door and block out all that is not in that room. Sit in the car in the driveway, listening only to the silence, to whatever your soul is yearning for. Hear the peace promised to arrive. Rev. Peggy reminds us:

…silence [is] a spiritual tool… that brings us back to ourselves, back to the Source of our being, the single place where we are most authentically who we are. There’s a voice that has to be heard without language. It’s the healing silence we experience when we first walk in our doors after a busy day, when we take that first deep breath; or that magical silence after a hymn of shared faith is over, when the last word was sung, the final note played; or the meditative silence of standing in a field while it snows.

We all need the magic of silence in order to shine. And shine we must for the “good with us,” the “god with us” to arrive.

As we wait in silence, in the quiet of peace,

…may the wings of the Spirit,
open softly within us,
gracing us with inspiration
so that our waiting itself becomes the place of a new creation.

From Kristin Schmidt’s Advent prayer

Amen and blessed be.

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