November/December 2019 (Vol. XXXII, No. 10)

"Is there enough Silence for the Word to be heard?"

Dear Friends ~ The expectant hush awaiting a baby's first breath, the temporary cessation of wind in the eye of a hurricane, the awkward pause in a conversational misstep, the profound stillness of woods blanketed in snow— there are so many kinds of silence. Silence can be sad or sublime, scary or sustaining; a fretful silence soaked in fear and anxiety or a silence pregnant with hope, expectancy, longing. Beyond, or perhaps within, these is the Silence of mystery, of luminous moments, and of communion.

How can we embrace the silence that carries the whispers of wisdom? Can we learn to hover on the outer edge of comforting bustle long enough to fall into unknown depths of sustaining stillness? Do we create sacred spaces to hold the stillness full of meaning? Is it intentional practice— the disciplined mind of the Dalai Lama's teachings— that leads us into the womb of silence? Or is it grace— the "surprised-by-joy" kind in CS Lewis' writing— that brings us these silent gifts? However we encounter Silence, we name her "Friend."

We are so grateful to all of you for your gracious encouragement and generous support. We wrote truthfully in our October appeal about the challenges as well as the joys of producing this Letter. In an effort to catch our collective breath and to bring the Letter to you nearer the beginning of each month, we are combining the November and December issues, just for now. In January, we'll share about how we imagine weaving the Letter in 2020. Until then, may all be well with you.

Now let your great and wise and powerful
be as the poor and foolish little ones:
unembarrassed to receive the incredible gift,
and not knotted in guilt over your lack of worth,
and not struggling to "earn" what cannot be deserved,
but just simply, joyfully accepting of all
that is given so humbly and gladly in Love.

~ from ENCOUNTERS AT BETHLEHEM by Jean Jones Andersen

The restless hollowness which surfaces into our consciousness when we reflect in silence is already the nearness of God, who is like the pure light which, spread over everything, hides itself by making everything else visible in the silent lowliness of its being. The Incarnation urges us, in the experience of solitude, to trust the nearness— it is not emptiness; to let go and then we will find; to give up and then we will be rich.

~ from THEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS by Karl Rahner

And in the unknowing
I will be found and find myself.
In the unknowing is
the Love, the Silence,
the acceptance of just
Being in the yearning
and that – that is
Enough.

~ from "The Unknowing" by Sam Baker

When I notice the spaces between sounds and the spaces between words and also the spaces between my thoughts and the background silence behind everything, I realize that all these spaces are the same space. This space is the entry point. It is the transformational vortex, the corridor, the window to Spirit.

~ from EVERYDAY IMMORTALITY by Deepak Chopra

The silence of the present moment was awe-inspiring in its power, oceanic was the word that came to mind, as it carried away everything in its path. The flow of our liturgy had become one with nature's incessant movement from light to dark and back again.

~ from DAKOTA: A SPIRITUAL GEOGRAPHY by Kathleen Norris

"How silent it is," he whispered. I started to shiver. The smoke from our stovepipe cast crazy shadows on the moonlit snow. "Come, let's go back in," he said softly. "Listen," I requested. The silence beat upon our empty ears. Not a sound. Nothing. My mind stretched into the wilderness night, listening. It was different from the muffled silence of falling snow which sucks up every noise. Neither was it the silence of plugged ears. This was the clear, cold music of thousands of miles of nothing to hear. We lingered, breathing it in. "It's the silence of a million ears," I said at last. "Of life, waiting."

~ from ARCTIC DAUGHTER by Jean Aspen

No writing on the solitary, meditative dimensions of life can say anything that has not already been said better by the wind in the pine trees...or the silence and peace that is "heard" when the rain wanders freely among the hills and forests. But what can the wind say where there is no hearer?

~ Thomas Merton in THOUGHTS IN SOLITUDE

In silence learn to give of yourself, forgive others, live with gratitude. Then you need not seek inner peace: Peace will find you!

~ from LUMEN CHRISTI…HOLY WISDOM by Nan Merrill

Silence wells up from an emptiness within us, but it is an emptiness freely and fully accepted...A moment comes when silence alone can express the extraordinary richness in our heart. Such a silence enfolds a person gently and powerfully and always comes from within. It establishes a zone of peace and quiet around the one who is silent, where God can be irresistibly felt as present.

~ André Loup in THE WAY OF SIMPLICITY by Esther deWaal

I part the out-thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.

~ "Woods" by Wendell Berry

Even though working actively for justice is essential, one of the greatest gifts we can give to a troubled world is the presence of a peaceful heart...Wrapping ourselves in silence, solitude, and gratitude is a sure way to open our hearts again to perspective and simplicity.

~ from REFLECTIONS by Robert J. Wicks

If we have courage, we take silence as medicine to cure us from our social ills, the suffering of self-centered alienation. In silence, sacred silence, we stand naked like trees in winter, all our secrets visible under our skin. And like winter's tree, we appear dead but are alive.

~ from THE FRUITFUL DARKNESS by Joan Halifax

Plunge into the ocean of God through stillness in the spirit and silence within the soul.

~ Nan Merrill

To learn how to wait, how to be silent, how to befriend the dark...Thus do we prepare to be creative. There is a waiting, a silence and a darkness in all birthing. Heart's winter is already a filling womb.

~ from YEAR OF THE HEART by Daniel J. O'Leary

 

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Light dwells deep within each of us
ready to radiate forth
as our will freely surrenders
in alignment with our soul's purpose...
Seek within and find the Source
of Love and Light.
Shine in unity with all whose joy
is to co-birth as a light
in the world.

--from Lumen Christi...Holy Wisdom by Nan Merrill

My friends, do not lose heart...For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement...To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these—to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity...Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.

--Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Dear friends,

There is a small text box on the home page of the Friends of Silence website. It says, "For the past 32 years, a small band of dedicated friends have poured their hearts and love into Friends of Silence. Each month we send out the newsletter in print and email to a growing community of over 10,000 people. The monthly newsletter of contemplative quotes remains free...."

Nearly ten years ago, the work of the Friends of Silence Letter came into the hands of a few of us "dedicated friends" who are part of Rolling Ridge, a small intentional community in West Virginia. Perhaps you know the story: Nan Merrill began the Friends of Silence in Detroit in 1987. She had been asked to gather a contemplative community to pray for peace in face of violence in the city. The Letter was Nan's way of encouraging her friends on this prayerful and difficult journey. Over the years, the number of those receiving the simple Letter with quotes and Nan's words of love grew into the thousands. Nan referred to the Letter as her "baby," which she cared for with the help of a few devoted companions, until she passed away in 2010. At that time, she asked Bob (her dear friend and member of Rolling Ridge) to take her baby and carry on the mission of Friends of Silence, and so Bob did. He brought the Letter to his community here.

Now we carry on this labor of love. Linda chooses the quotes each month, writes the beautiful introductions, and lays out the Letter, often using her own artwork and photos. Kate maintains the mailing list, and follows up on everyone's address and life changes; she gratefully and faithfully sends out the donation receipts, and makes sure our overseas subscribers get their copies. Joy produces the email version of the Letter and maintains the website. Though Bob has moved from Rolling Ridge, he is still involved, working on a new version of the website, creating the Friends of Silence app, and dreaming up possible e-courses. I do a bit of everything: writing, administration, and retreats, often with help from Mary Ann.

We've been at this a while, on a nearly volunteer basis, fitting the work around lives full with other ministries. We are parents and grandparents, teachers, retreat leaders; we are caretakers of 1400 acres of protected forest; we maintain a large permaculture garden, two flocks of chickens, six sheep, and twelve buildings (if you count the tractor shed and the horse barn that never has housed a horse); we provide hospitality to those who come for retreat and renewal in this sacred place.

Sometimes I wonder about the heart it takes to hold all the pieces of this lively patchwork. I wonder about the shape and place and importance of each piece. This includes the Friends of Silence Letter, which after all, came to us, a "baby" not originally our own.

Then I look around: at the breathing, luminous Earth so filled with Spirit, where Mystery and Wonder may yet be found, and at the murky, tangled, precious world in which we live now, a world that is falling apart. It seems to me that what is most needed in these troubled times is the capacity to stand at that frontier of light and dark, to root down into the Source of Love, and to be fully lit. Now I see the place of the Friends of Silence Letter. It is of "greatest necessity". It is quietly fueling the lantern of soul.

So I find I have not lost heart. We have the heart to carry on with Nan's baby. But of course it takes more than heart. It takes community and prayer. It takes money. As you know, the Letter is sent free to anyone who asks. We have no "subscriber base", nor do we have advertisers or sponsors. What we have is you, our faithful "Friends of Silence". Each year we seem to bring in just enough to pay for printing and mailing the Letter 11 times, to cover fees for website hosting, for stamps for the donation receipts, a few office supplies.

That little box on our website ends with these words: "If our work brings you any hope and a sense of belonging, then please consider supporting our labor of love with a donation." If our work helps you to not lose heart, and keeps your lantern lit, then please help us keep the Letter coming to you and all those whose "joy is to co-birth as a light in the world."

In gratitude, May all things be well,

Lindsay McLaughlin and the small band of dedicated friends who are the staff for Friends of Silence

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