Friends of Silence 2012

Dear Friends,

It’s a glowingly lovely early autumn day as I write this at Rolling Ridge. Our community garden is a riot of bright zinnias and marigolds; most of the vegetable plants have gone to seed. The garden deserves this rest and celebration, having yielded beans, peppers, blackberries, tomatoes and much more. The season of gratitude for an abundant harvest is at hand, inspiring me to tell you how the work of Friends of Silence this year has yielded its own rich harvest and to ask for your prayerful and financial support so that the Letter can continue to nurture a growing community.

Last year Bob wrote to tell you the story of how the work of Friends of Silence came to dwell here beside this garden nestled in 1400 acres of wilderness in West Virginia. He recalled how in her last days with us in this world Nan Merrill gave him a colorful bundle of past Friends of Silence Letters saying, “take my baby.” And he did, carrying Nan’s ministry to his home at Rolling Ridge, a nature preserve in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Here Friends of Silence has taken root and grown. Continuing with Anne Strader, four of us, Bob, Trish, Mary Ann and I, came together to hold Nan’s dream with listening and receptive spirits. We promised to hold fast to the heart of Friends of Silence, the monthly Letter, and we have. We understood that Nan’s hope for the life of her baby went beyond the Letter, and we endeavored to nurture Friends of Silence in new directions as they emerged.

We knew this would be quite a journey, and Bob asked for your prayers. We are grateful and humbled, one year later, to have experienced how bountifully those prayers have been answered.

Nan’s dream included establishing an actual, physical dwelling place where the readers and participants in Friends of Silence could come for renewal, rest and, of course, silence. Almost a year ago, in November, 2011, Friends of Silence became a partner of Still Point Mountain Retreat, a lovely three-bedroom cabin on a forested rise overlooking the Shenandoah River. Here many lovers of silence have come to contemplate the splendor of God’s creation while taking part in personal or programmed retreats. A smaller cabin, the River House, is similarly available for those who crave solitude closer to the bank of the Shenandoah.

Near the Still Point cabin is a simple, one-room building once known as “the writer’s cottage.” Tucked under stately oaks and birch, its rear wall is a large window that looks onto a walking labyrinth and the forest beyond. During the spring and early summer, many friends came together to transform the small structure, giving it a new hardwood floor, fresh paint inside and out, a modestly lovely deck, and an attached restroom with a clean and natural composting toilet and gravity sink.

The cottage is now the home of Nan’s collection of many books on spirituality, wisdom and faith. Trish, our own resident contemplative artist, spent time making the cottage interior a serene space in which to read and reflect. She took time also to organize the collection, which is lovingly arranged on simple shelves lining two walls of the cottage.

Still Point became the site for the birth of the Friends of Silence Retreat Ministry. Under Friends of Silence sponsorship, this year women have come to share their life journeys as well as their handcrafts and spirituality; girls spent a week learning from mentors in the arts and exploring their own expressions; Trish led a retreat on Nan’s interpretations of the psalms, using Psalms for Praying; in August, more than 60 people came to take part in the Pilgrimage of Peace, built around daily sung prayer and silence.

Reflections on these retreats and the immeasurable possibilities of being in silence while surrounded by sacred wilderness are recorded in the “blog-style” email launched this year, Inside Friends of Silence, which now goes out to nearly 900 online readers.

The Friends of Silence website is slowly unfolding into an ever-deepening well of resources and nourishment for those on a path of Silence. More and more quotes from all the Friends of Silence Letters are being cataloged and stored in a searchable database. We are poised to inaugurate courses and retreats that can be taken online, the first one aptly titled, “Befriending Silence.”

Recently I reflected on the first steps taken in the labyrinth, which is in the clearing behind the Friends of Silence Library at Still Point. This labyrinth was the work of the Pilgrimage of Peace, whose participants built it during the retreat using stones gathered from the land. At the conclusion of the Pilgrimage, we were the first group to walk its circular pattern, blessing all who would come after. It was an overcast morning, tender rain having just stopped as we began to walk. The gray light softened the edges of the forest as the leaves whispered above us. I thought about first steps, how Nan’s baby is taking them, here, surrounded by a Loving Presence, embraced by trees and morning mist. I believe she would rejoice.

The winding path still lies ahead, of course, with many more steps to go. The budding of the FOS retreat ministry has been enabled by retreat fees, thus growing Friends of Silence without taking away from its heart, the Letter. The Letter is sent to thousands completely without charge or subscription cost. Its publication and distribution still depends solely on contributions from readers. Your generosity enables Nan’s baby to thrive, because the Letter at its heart will remain full of life. Please make a contribution to sustain Nan’s baby today.

Your friend in Silence,


Lindsay McLaughlin
Phone: 304.724.1069

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