Friday, April 23, 2010

Hearing Silence, Seeing Darkness

A hundred and fifty years ago Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth."  Fifty years later men were flying, and it was not long before the pollution of the skies followed. We hardly notice the obscuration of the heavens anymore until it is temporarily gone.

Recently the people of England saw blue skies for the first time in recent memory. The eruption of the volcano in Iceland grounded all British and European flights for days. The result was that the jet exhausts dissipated. The haze of contrails and manmade cirrus clouds faded. The skies turned brilliant blue again ... for a few days. At night some people could actually see the stars.

Carol Ann Duffy, Britain's poet laureate, was so excited to see the sky that she wrote a poem: "Five miles up the hush and shush of ash/Yet the sky is as clean as a white slate/I could write my childhood there."

Not only were the skies bluer and brighter, they were quieter as well. Londoners remarked that they could actually carry on a conversation in their backyards across their neighbor's fence.

This silence is what I notice most when I get away from the incessant roar of civilization. When I get into the countryside I can hear the quiet again. It always comes as a surprise. I didn't realize how much I missed silence until I hear it again.

I live in a suburban area. Not real close to a big city or major highway ... but still too close. The sounds of motor vehicles on nearby roads have become the background noise of my life.

The same is true with the outdoor artificial light. Neighbors all around me keep exterior lights blazing all night. I guess it is to keep the bogeyman away - the adult equivalent of childhood nightlights. I had to purchase light-blocking window shades for my bedroom just so it was dark enough to sleep.

It is a treat to go to an area where I can see the dark and hear the silence.  That is what prayer is like for me. Everyday life has too much ambient light and noise. I retreat into my prayer closet and close the door. 

Then I go "further up and further in" (to quote C.S. Lewis) and leave the background chatter of my mind behind. In the spacious quiet of God's kingdom, I glimpse the clear blue skies of heaven and hear the silence of God's voice.

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