Reflection given for the Friends of Silence Board Meeting
Being "friends of silence", we spend time wondering about what it is, as we would with a life-long companion or partner. At least I do. What makes him or her, or it, tick? What are its contours, its hills and valleys, its depths, its joys? What is its personality, its mood, on any given day? What or who is it?
I suspect, indeed, that these are the questions which bring readers to the Letter. They find inspiration in the quotes for sure, but deep down, they are asking, what is this silence we are all so drawn to? They read the Letter hoping for a glimpse at an answer, or perhaps at least a signpost pointing to another layer of exploration and wonder.
Each month I troll the letter. Being on the staff of Friends of Silence, I am privileged to have this opportunity before most. I can tell you that the June issue, which is on breath, has this gem from Hildegard von Bingen:
your way of knowing is amazing!
The way you recognize every creature
even before it appears.
The way you gaze into the face
of every human being
and see all your works gazing back at you.
O what a miracle to be awake inside your breathing.
It's a beautiful hymn, rising to the final line, "O what a miracle to be awake inside your breathing". Hildegard's poem is foremother of another poem more familiar to me by Mary Oliver. Called "Mindful", it opens with the lines, "Every day I see or I hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light." Two women, centuries removed from each other, singing as one.
The other day I walked down Wedding Walk trail toward Hunter's Field, thinking of nothing much. The forest was a fresh, vernal green; the air crisp and warm. As I emerged from under the trees into the open, a bluebird startled me, flying in a banking arc above my head, its bright wings flashing in the sunlight. I stood astonished, because I rarely, if ever, have seen a songbird flying so high and with such determination, like a tiny eagle. As I watched, another bluebird jetted out of the woods on the far side of the field, flying equally fast and high. Bluebirds are present at Rolling Ridge, but they are not commonly seen, being quite shy and not prone to visit feeders or fly about much like the finches or cardinals. These two proceeded to put on an airshow above my head, swooping and then wheeling around for a second or third pass. They carried on for several minutes while I remained rooted. Then I noticed the nest box that someone had placed on the northern edge of the field and finally discerned the pattern in the birds arcing flightpath. Their aim was twofold, feeding their babies and protecting them from the intruder in the field's golden paradise.
I'm wondering still about silence; what it is, why we are its friends. Perhaps Hildegard and Mary are onto a piece of it: silence is that space in which we are both awake and slain by delight, that moment when we walk into a field or around a corner and are astonished and buried in light.
For now, we'll leave it at that. Every day, every Letter, offers another possibility to our wonderings about silence. Right now, the wood thrush is feeding on the ground outside my window.
Blue bird image by Scot DeGraf. Used with permission.