Monday, October 18, 2010

Living Silence

To quote the famous sage, Sister Maria of Salzburg, when I am in the mountains I hear the sound of music. I don’t twirl around and sing aloud. (Please get that image out of your mind!) I stand still and listen to the sound of the mountains. At the risk of sounding like Paul Simon, it is the sound of silence.

There is a quality of silence heard only in wild places. It is different than regular silence, like the difference between tap water and spring water – not the kind out of a plastic bottle, but direct from a spring.

When I was a child I used to visit my grandparents who had a cabin in New Hampshire. They had a hand pump in the kitchen that drew water from the lake for washing. But if you wanted a drink, you had to walk down a winding path to a spring and dip a ladle in the water. Jesus called such water “living water.” Living water is running water, as opposed to still water.

The silence in the mountains is living silence, as opposed to the dead silence of human places. You can’t usually hear it near human habitations. There is too much noise pollution, even in rural areas. The only place I hear it is in far into the mountains.

I heard it again last week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire - in Bear Notch, where we stopped to view the patchwork of colors on the valleys below. I heard it earlier at the end of the dirt road where our son and his family live on Mountain Road in South Tamworth. At the top of a hill with a beautiful view of the mountains, one can hear silence.

This is the silence I hear in prayer. It sounds like the voice of God. It speaks. It stirs the emotions. It enlivens the heart. It invigorates the soul. It is nourishment for the human spirit.

Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” I don’t think he was talking about Bible reading. I think he was talking about silence.

The psalmist describes the natural voices of heaven and earth: “They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.”

That is why Jesus often went into the wilderness to be by himself. He was feeding on silence. I need silence. When I don’t have my Minimum Daily Requirement of it, I get “out-of-sorts.” Silence keeps me sane.

It is best when gathered in wild places – mountains, oceans and forests. But a prayer closet provides the next best thing. Right beneath the skin of the soul, divine silence lives.

It is like when you put a seashell to your ear and hear the sound of the sea. When I get to my knees and press my ear to my soul, I hear the silence of the mountains. For a few minutes I dwell in sacred space, and feed upon the silent word of God.
Photo is “Mountain Silence” by Peathor

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