Monday, January 05, 2015

Silence is not silent

We have three in the house under the age of ten. So if silence golden, it's a precious metal in short supply around these parts.

Perhaps this is why I've come to cherish it all the more. Some nights, I just sit in the office and close my eyes and reduce the input to the ambient sounds of the house. I especially enjoy the rich thrum of the furnace, dogs periodically calling to each other in their night alarms, or the unfortunately rare rain that comes in winter months and caresses the roof.

Krista Tippett recently interviewed Gordon Hempton, an audio ecologist. In the interview, he talks about the last quiet places, including the Hoh Rainforest in his own part of Washington state on the Olympic peninsula.

I remember hiking this forest some years ago while on internship in Seattle, and especially remember the audio quality of it, akin to a cathedral.

Hempton does not define silence as the absence of sound. Instead, he considers silent places those places where outside sounds do not intrude. According to this measure, he calculates there are less than 100 places on earth that are silent for at least 15 minutes straight. And none of them are protected.

Late in the interview, Hempton mentions that listening to nature can be excellent training for listening to others. I would agree.

Listening to the actual sound around us is also, as I mentioned in the sermon this past Sunday on light and the star that guided the wise men, an exercise in discovering what was always there that we lose sight of, or rarely see, or overlook, or simply don't perceive.

Knowing there is light even in the spaces we look through seeking light elsewhere... discovering sound behind sounds... knowing we are always enveloped in sound, enveloped in light, so that even our silences are not silent, and our dark places illuminated... well, there's something comforting in that.

It doesn't take me all the way down the road in the spirituality of recent authors I respect, like Barbara Brown Taylor in her Learning to Walk in the Dark, because in my own Christian form of thought, there remains a valuable place for words, for sound, for illumination.

But I have grown in my respect for silence, for darkness, as perhaps a place God especially meets us and seeks us out.

1 comment:

  1. So very true. I had this experience while hitchhiking down Rt. 101 from Portland to S.F. in 1965. My favorite stop was an overnight at Short Sand Beach,OR, right here:
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    keep on listnin'! d a v e