Friends of Silence: November 2011

Vol. XXIV, No. 10

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

Warm greetings, dear friends! As the year draws to a close, the world around us seems to slow down, reflecting a drawing inward, a time of rest to rebuild reserves of strength, food for another active season of growing and producing. The earth lies fallow, while deep within, that which is necessary for life and growth replenishes itself. We would do well to observe and take in this valuable lesson from nature. We, too, need time to lie fallow, time to just be, to listen and dream and wait for the wisdom at the center of our being to make itself known to us before we enter again into a busy season of doing. In the silence we come home to ourselves, we remember who we are; in the silence we are renewed and strengthened for the seasons of our lives.

Silence as a spiritual practice is much more than being able to sit still without talking for thirty minutes or longer. Instead, silence is a quality of presence. The silence we search for is an overall state of being. It is not something we achieve with great effort, either, but something we uncover that is inside us. Somewhere at our core there is a reservoir of silence. . . . To return regularly to this depth, whether in cloistered silence or in line at the grocery, is called "a habit of silence." It is not duration that is important, but the returning time after time to the source within us that, in time, shapes who we are.

~ Marv Hiles, in "The Way Through," No. 37, Spring 2011

We come to know the power of Silence
In deep meditation; here,
True Wisdom emerges silently,
Rising up from the Mystery
Of the unseen Source within all.

~ from WALKING WITH WISDOM by Nan Merrill

The silence within us is the source of all that we are.

~ Swami Amar Jyoti


Silence is one of the major thresholds in the world. . . . Meister Eckhart said that there is nothing in the world that resembles God so much as silence. Silence is a great friend of the soul; it unveils the riches of solitude. It is very difficult to reach that quality of inner silence. You must make a space for it so that it may begin to work for you. In a certain sense, you do not need the whole armory and vocabulary of therapies, psychologies, or spiritual programs. If you have a trust in and an expectation of your own solitude, everything that you need to know will be revealed to you. These are some wonderful lines from the French poet Rene Char: "Intensity is silent, its image is not. I love everything that dazzles me and then accentuates the darkness within me." Here is an image of silence as the force that discloses hidden depth. Silence is the sister of the divine.

~ from ANAM CARA by John O'Donohue

Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses, to our selves. It locates us. Without that return we can go so far away from our true natures that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves. We live blindly and act thoughtlessly. We endanger the delicate balance which sustains our lives, our communities, and our planet.

~ from INVITING SILENCE by Gunilla Norris

Silence is the matrix from which word is born, the home to which word returns through understanding. Word (in contrast to chatter) does not break the silence.

In a genuine word, silence comes to word. In genuine understanding, word comes home into silence. For those who know only the world of words, silence is mere emptiness. But our silent heart knows the paradox: the emptiness of silence is inexhaustibly rich; all the words in the world are merely a trickle of its fullness.

~ Br David Steindl-Rast, thanks to Liz Stewart

each evening
is a softly

~ Robert Hirschman Brown

May we all grow in grace and peace,
and not neglect the silence that is printed
in the centre of our being.
It will not fail us.

~ Thomas Merton

The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.

~ Rabindinath Tagore

Lindbergh wrote more than fifty years ago, "Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands in distractions. Instead of stilling the center, the axis of the wheel, we add more centrifugal activities to our lives-- which tend to throw us off balance."

But our spirit has an instinct for silence. Every soul innately yearns for stillness, for a space, a garden where we can till, sow, reap, and rest, and by doing so come to a deeper sense of self and our place in the universe. Silence is not an absence but a presence. Not an emptiness but repletion. A filling up.

~ from LISTENING BELOW THE NOISE by Anne D. LeClaire

Unfortunately, in seeing ourselves as we truly are, not all that we see is beautiful and attractive. This is undoubtedly part of the reason we flee silence. We do not want to be confronted with our hypocrisy, our phoniness. We see how false and fragile is the false self we project. We have to go through this painful experience to come to our true self. It is a harrowing journey, a death to self--the false self--and no one wants to die. But it is the only path to life, to freedom, to peace, to true love. And it begins with silence. We cannot give ourselves in love if we do not know and possess ourselves. This is the great value of silence. It is the pathway to all we truly want.

~ M. Basil Pennington

Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. . . all events are blessings given to us to learn from.

~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

A loving silence has far more power to heal than the most well-intentioned words.

~ Rachel Naomi Remen

Coming to the red-brick church, we slip inside to rest, reflect, and lay prayerful hands on our ailing bodies. The sanctuary is empty. We sidle into pews, remove our hats, gloves, coats. Silence. Yank off our shoes. Silence.

Unlike the silence of a library with its absence of noise, of outward distractions, its rules and kindly librarians who shhhh! at you, in the empty church the silence is different. It's all about presence. Presence you can't name for what it truly is, can't see, but you can feel, if you bring your heart across the threshold of the outside world. This church could as easily be a synagogue, mosque, or a temple. There you meet yourself, and that inexpressible mystery that lies beyond you. This presence requires reverence, not obedience. We kneel at the shrine with no donation to make but our prayers--for things beyond words, prayers of the open heart. This silence is alive, making possible a change. Silence . . .

~ from THE EMPTINESS OF OUR HANDS by Phyllis Cole Dei and James Murray

Dear Friends of Silence:

As I sit to draft our Annual Appeal letter, I am trying to remember my first conversation with Nan. In the year 2000 I was looking for a special gift for my wife Jackie. A longtime friend of mine, who later developed the computer program for maintaining the Friends of Silence mailing list, told me about Bella Erakko, a gifted weaver and dear friend of Nan’s. Bella created a beautiful prayer shawl and also put me in touch with Nan. I called her that year, and our first conversation lasted over two hours! She rapidly became like a second mom to me, my own having died in 1971.

In our monthly phone conversations we would talk about Nan’s dreams, and mine, and we loved to share books that were deeply influencing our lives. I remember that the first book she sent my way was Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism; and if I recall correctly, the first book I sent her was the second volume of Maurice Nicoll’s Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. As you might guess, we both were seekers of inner transformation and, while rooted in the Jesus story, we both read broadly from the sacred literature of all the wisdom traditions.

As our conversations continued, Nan shared her vision for a contemplative retreat center for the FOS, a place of hospitality and welcome for those journeying on this silent path. My wife and I had moved to Rolling Ridge in 2002, a 1400 acre tract of sacred wilderness land near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where we now live with five other families in a volunteer retreat community. Nan came for a visit with Anne and Bella to explore establishing her House of Silence at Rolling Ridge. The idea did not come to fruition at that time, and a few years later Nan, Anne, and Bella, through a combination of circumstances, found the ideal house and established The Friends of Silence Center for Peace and Prayer in Hannibal, Missouri.

In the last months of Nan’s life, she became concerned about how her vision would continue. Several months before she died, Jackie and I visited Nan and a few members of the Friends of Silence board in Jericho, Vermont to discuss the possibility of moving FOS to Rolling Ridge.

Before our first meeting began in her small apartment, she handed me a colorful bundle of all the past issues of the Friends of Silence. “Here’s my baby,” she said. As my hands touched the “baby,” a jolt of energy flashed through my body, my eyes filled with tears, and in embarrassment I turned my head, not sure that I wanted any of the others to see this unexpected display of emotion that had overtaken me. Nan spoke no further words, but as I turned back to her, her gaze burned into me. It was as if I could see her life and her dream all at once, in one big bundle.

I regained my composure and we all sat down to continue our discernment about the future of the Friends of Silence. The next day, before resuming our talks, I privately went up to Nan and said, “You know what happened yesterday morning, don’t you?” “Of course I do,” she simply stated. And then, in almost a whisper, “I sent it.” Nan did not want her baby to die. She wanted to know whether I could hold her dream with reverence and tenderness, and help what she had birthed to grow up without her.

And so now Nan’s energy and her dream have taken up residence in Still Point at Rolling Ridge with me and three energetic and gifted women – Trish Stefanik, Lindsay McLaughlin, and Mary Ann Welter. To be honest, we don’t really know where Nan’s dream is taking us, but it is living and growing in us and we are trying to hold it with listening and receptive hearts. As we listen for possible new directions, we also continue to hold fast to the heart of FOS, our monthly letter, which Anne Strader continues to produce in the simple, familiar format Nan began more than 20 years ago.

We all may want to be a friend of Silence, but sometimes I am not entirely sure that Silence wants to be our “friend.” Befriending Silence should at least come with a big warning sign, because if we stretch out to take her hand, she will inevitably lead us where we do not want to go. Those who follow the path of Silence learn to embrace all that life brings them – the wanted and the unwanted, the mess and the magic – with open, abandoned, and surrendered hearts.

Nan was a friend of Silence. She knew this terrible truth about its wily ways. And so do we. Will you join with us in this journey into the unknown? We need your partnership, your prayers, and your support. I am asking for the help of each of you. We cannot care for this baby alone.

Some facts and figures are printed below for your prayerful consideration.

Your friend in Silence,

Bob Sabath
Phone: 202.531.7572

Facts and Figures

FOS letter circulation: more than 6,000
Number of Donors: less than 2,000
Cost of the letter: $28,000 per yer (printing and mailing) 

FOS Additional Needs:
$15,000 per year to keep the online FOS active and alive (see note below)
$50,000 to purchase 2 partnership shares in Still Point Mountain Retreat to establish a retreat home.

Note: We are continuing to build a web site ( where you can search through all issues of the Friends of Silence letters, get daily quotes, and have the monthly letter delivered to your email box. We hope you soon will be able to take an online class on silence. Check the website often for news of our developing retreat ministry at Still Point.

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