November 2016 (Vol. XXIX, No. 10)

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

Quiet greetings, dear friends,

In silence and solitude
you will come to meet the Beloved of your heart.
For Silence is power,
the power of the Divine Lover blessing and transforming you.
Seek always the Eternal Flame
ever shining in your heart,
and let yourself be nourished
and refreshed in the Silence.
~ Nan Merrill

Nan was intimately acquainted with the mysterious power of Silence, which drew her on a journey that blessed us all; a journey that today, 30 years later, still nourishes and refreshes us. Silence cannot be seen, or touched, or heard. Yet it is palpable, transformative. Nan experienced it as the power of the Divine Lover, and her calling was to spread that love through Friends of Silence and the monthly Letter. Nestled in this issue is a letter that traces the mysterious power of Silence in Nan’s life and the movement she founded. The letter asks for your companionship and help to carry that journey onward for another 30 years and beyond. We hope you will take a moment to read it, even those of you who usually receive the Letter via email only. Whoever and wherever we are, we come together in Silence, linked by a desire to turn our attention to that inner world, that place of deepest Belonging, that can be apprehended in stillness and solitude. We come together in gratitude for the power of Silence and for the gift of our deeply connected, though far flung, community of souls. May you ever "let yourself be nourished and refreshed in the Silence."

May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter, so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep with-in. May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping into the ground, so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow. May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core. May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.

~ Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Carve out a day every week, or an hour a day, or a moment each hour, and abide in loving silence with the Friend. Feel the frenetic concerns of life in the world fall away, like the last leaves of autumn being lifted from the tree in the arms of a zephyr. Be the bare tree.

~ St. John of the Cross

If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt the sadness of never understanding ourselves.

~ Pablo Neruda

Mirroring the creation of the universe, all great things have come from the ancient weave of silence. It is a part of us that we must welcome home.

~ Frank MacEowen

It is becoming more and more clear to me that silence isn’t an emptiness. It isn’t so much an IT as a THOU. Let’s see if we can deepen our own life of prayer by moving beyond thinking that silence is an emptiness, a backdrop or a condition, into thinking and actually experiencing silence as a mode of relationship with the infinitely present Beloved.

~ Cynthia Bourgeault

Come away from the din. Come away to the quiet fields, over which the great sky stretches, and where, between us and the stars, there lies but silence; and there, in the stillness let us listen to the voice that is speaking within us.

~ Jerome K. Jerome

The more we live with people in a community, the more we must look to ourselves and regard the beam in our own eyes. The more we live with a babbling crowd, the more we must practice silence. "For every idle word we speak, we will be judged."

~ Dorothy Day

Intelligent silence is the mother of prayer, freedom from bondage, custodian of zeal, a guard on our thoughts, a watch on our fears, a friend of tears, a recollection of death, a concern without judgment, a foe of license, a companion of stillness, the opponent of dogmatism, a growth of knowledge, a hand to shape contemplation, hidden progress, the secret journey toward the Light. The lover of silence draws closer to God (by whatever Names).

~ from THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT by St. John Clemacius

The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and my advice asked, I should reply, "Create silence. Bring people to silence. The word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. Therefore, create silence."

~ Soren Keirkegaard

The trees, the flowers, the plants grow in silence. The stars, the sun, the moon move in silence. Silence gives us a new perspective.

~ Mother Teresa

It is strange how much we resist the inherent peace and quiet that is always possible. Perhaps this is because resting in simple presence is so foreign to a lifelong habit of mental complication, and we may have confused complication with a sense of aliveness. We may assume that having no particular mental project would result in boredom. Or we may be overwhelmed by how vast and free life suddenly feels when our minds are not on the hunt.

~ from PASSIONATE PRESENCE by Catherine Ingram

I gather this garment
Of silence about me,
Stillness that used to be
Threatening, its needles
Of fear lurking,
Probing wounds of my past scars to my psyche.
Now in the hands of Love
These needles have knitted
A silence so beautiful
That nothing
Can hurt. I draw skeins
Of silence with this healing garment about me,
As its stitches permeate
The crevices of my soul
Whispering, Peace.
Be still—and know:
Now all that would harm you
Is knitted to warm you.

~ from "Knitting Life" by Kent Ira Groff in KNITTING INTO THE MYSTERY

We need to recover an oasis of silence within the rhyme and reason of our active life, for it is in silence that we meet God face to face.

~ Max Picard

Teach us that even as the wonder of the stars in the heavens only reveals itself in the silence of the night, so the wonder of life reveals itself in the silence of the heart. In the silence of our heart we may see the scattered leaves of all the universe bound by love.

~ from THE GHAGAVAD GITA

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Dear Friends,

There are many ways to tell a story.  This one begins with a young mother who looked out the window of her child’s bedroom into a sky filled with stars and was captured by an experience of the Numinous.  Nan Merrill wrote of it years later:

As Mechtild of Magdeburg said, "The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw -- and knew I saw -- all things in God and God in all things."  Everything else suddenly fell into perspective in the light of this awareness.  In time, I was to discover that once Life had found me, once Love had taken me by the hand, there was no way I could stop the inner pilgrimage… There was no turning back… To choose Life with deep conviction and commitment is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, our families, our global neighbors, as well as the planet and ourselves.~ from Journey Into Love

There was indeed no turning back.  In the 1980s in Detroit Nan was a lay volunteer in a Detroit parish.  There she joined a small group of seekers and pilgrims who had been called together by the priest to pray for peace in that violence-ravaged city. Nan found herself tending that small and ever-growing community, sending many personal notes of encouragement to those who could not attend the weekly meetings.  But when it was suggested that she begin a regular monthly newsletter, she wondered how to write, with words, about silence.  It came to her to compile a treasure trove of quotes about the depth, breadth, and power of Silence and the infinite ways it infuses the wisdom of the world.  Thus the Friends of Silence Letter came into being. It went out each month to anyone who asked, bearing Nan’s love in the quotations she noted and in the thoughts she copied from her journal. It continues today.

Nan’s experience of the Holy as a “Loving Companion Presence” permeated her writing and inspired many.  The Friends of Silence Letter spread hand to hand and name by name, all added freely to the mailing list, which soon numbered in the hundreds.  In 1996 she published Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, which was read and loved around the world.  The first and best known of her five books, it brought even more people to Friends of Silence.  The modest Letter had become a ministry linking thousands in the reverence of Silence and the awareness of Divine Love, and reaching into prisons, businesses, churches, and urban centers everywhere.  In Nan’s vision, the practice of Silence and faith in the power of Divine Love radiated ever outward, bringing blessing and healing to a wounded world.

In 2006 Nan was diagnosed with cancer.  She continued her ministry and her writing, publishing Journey Into Love in 2007, which included these words:

Awakening is an ongoing journey.  To begin to see and to turn our lives around is only the beginning…This road humbles us and gives us strength to repent, to ask forgiveness, to simplify and discard all that is not Life-giving, and to abandon ourselves into Love’s hands…I’ve learned to love and to trust the Mystery not needing to know the future.  I no longer take Grace for granted—it is pure gift… My essential course of action is simply to be in the Eternal Now, ready to follow the small, still voice heard in the Silence.

Nan passed away in 2010.  Now her ministry and vision is carried on in our hearts and by the work of a few of us who are part of a retreat community in West Virginia, where once Nan considered establishing her dream of a retreat home for Friends of Silence.  It didn’t happen in her lifetime, but it has now.  Still Point Mountain Retreat sits atop a rise halfway up the side of a small mountain overlooking the Shenandoah River and the valley beyond.  It nestles against the Rolling Ridge nature preserve, 1,600 acres of wild forest, crossed by mountain streams.  People come here to be quiet, to pray, to be renewed, to re-gain their vision.

And so we carry on with Nan’s ministry, her “baby”, as she called it.  The baby has grown, as living things do, and includes a website, an electronic version of the Letter, a searchable database of quotations from Friends of Silence, a blog about silence and life on the mountain, and a robust retreat ministry.

It has been 30 years since those early days in Detroit.  We intend a yearlong celebration honoring those years and Nan’s vision, culminating in a festival day at Still Point on October 21, 2017.  You are invited. We’ll tell you the details as they develop.

During this year, we hope to publish a liturgical resource based on Nan’s writings and quotations from the Letter, organized by season and theme, with beautiful graphics and introductions by those of us on the current Friends of Silence staff.   We intend to break ground for a simple, round stone structure, a meditation shelter for seekers of Silence.  Most of all, we commit ourselves to continuing the wonderful work of the Letter and to nurturing the deepening community of those linked in the Silence, in heart-prayer, and in friendship.  We pledge to keep the Letter coming for the next 30 years and beyond.

We welcome your help.  We have already asked that you send us your stories and memories of Nan, her work, and how it has touched your life; as well as copies of any correspondence.  Many of you have responded.  Please continue, and thank you!

We know that the Letter is sustained solely by donations; amounts that you give freely and generously from all that you have.  We cannot ask more.

But we can ask that you speak with others: one, or two, or three people you know personally, those whom you might approach in your own communities when seeking support.  Ask whether they might be able to sustain FOS by a donation in the spring of at least $300, or $3,000, or more!  If they say yes, call us and tell us about your conversation.  We or a member of our Board will follow up with you and with them personally.

Above all, we ask that you continue to pray, to be present, to be filled with joy and the knowledge of an Inner Presence, and to

Journey into Silence;
blessings await you there.
--Nan Merrill