Searching for Silence in a Noisy World

Silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept. ~Henri Nouwen

spiral galaxy

Recently, in a doctor’s office waiting room, three other women and I contently read books while the lone man sitting in front of me slouched in his chair. The doctor’s technician entered, looked around, and without asking, said, “It’s way too quiet in here. I’m going to turn on the TV.” Soon, Pa, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe galloped across the screen, their musical accompaniment invading our quiet reverie.

Cast of Bonanza

Cast of Bonanza

This technician made an assumption about us. The room was not “way to quiet” for any of us, as our discussion following her intrusion indicated. Later, I asked her if she was uncomfortable with silence. She admitted she was and proceeded to describe how she incorporates “noise” into her world. She gave me a strange look when I told her, “I’m a contemplative. I enjoy silence.”

One of my pet peeves is being put on hold to loud, thumping music. A soft reminder that those I’m calling are still on the line would suffice, in my opinion. Rarely are they able to grant my request for silence. Most of the time I’m forced to wait out their jarring music while accomplishing nothing.

“Can’t people handle silence anymore?” I wonder. To me, it seems our world gets noisier all the time.

Horseshoe Falls

Often in our solitude, we can discover the miracles of life…taking our path of aloneness deep enough through the woods so we can reach that unspoiled clearing. ~Mark Nepo

I’m retired and live alone. While I need and very much enjoy the company of my family and friends, I have the luxury of a great deal of solitude and silence in my home. When I read spiritual literature, I need silent concentration to discover the deeper message. And when I write, with my contemplative style, solitude and silence give me the possibility of experiencing the inner fire of the Divine. Writing my memoir, mostly in solitude and silence, I reached Mark Nepo’s “unspoiled clearing,” making the process eminently worthwhile.

While I was contemplating writing on this topic, I heard an interesting NPR interview with Olivia Block, a composer from Chicago.

Olivia values and seeks out the loud sounds in her hometown, one of the noisiest of cities. She hears music in the tones of the elevated train’s brakes; textures in snippets of conversations, cell phones ringing, water lapping against rocks, two bottles banging together; the blending of prairie with the urban as the wind bangs rods together in a sculpture near a skyscraper. She finds this noise beautiful, often striking her in a cinematic way, helping her hear language differently.

I have writing friends who seek out noisy places or groups in order to write. It works for them. For the companionship, I wish it did for me. But because of our need for solitude, my writing partner and I found it necessary to write separately and then come together to share and give feedback.

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. ~Audre Lorde

With the advent of technology, we have become increasingly aware of the vast differences among us. Audre Lorde’s wisdom is needed in a world hurting from attempts to annihilate the differences that are feared…the diversity making us uncomfortable and others wrong.

In the face of global violence, my request is miniscule. Still, I ask consideration for those among us, like me, who find our noisy world jarring and actually value the gifts of silence and solitude. Before assuming, it’s “way too quiet,” please ask. Perhaps if we can learn to recognize and accept such a tiny difference, we can learn to celebrate the ones we fear.

Vive la difference!

How are you challenged to recognize, accept, and celebrate differences?

What request do you bring to the table?

Revisiting Beliefs

A member of our Angel Group told us she wasn’t sure what she believed anymore. And so, last week it was suggested we all share what we believe. A lively discussion ensued. I listened silently.

Then Carol turned to me and said, “Linda, you haven’t said anything. You’re our expert. What do you have to say?” She mistakenly thinks I’m an expert because I have a theological education.

I surprised the group by sharing I’m uncomfortable with discussions about religious beliefs. I see a lot of damage having been done in the name of beliefs. Historically, we’ve experienced religious wars because of differing beliefs. Even today extremist groups attempt to purify our world of “wrong” beliefs by murdering anyone who thinks differently. Our own culture wars and gridlock in Washington are a product of entrenched differing beliefs. Families can be torn apart. My son chose a more conservative path than mine and was sure I was going to hell. While I didn’t appreciate his judgment, I supported his finding a path that served his needs.

The Angels didn’t display any discord in our discussion last week, but then we are a group of like-minded women. Our differences in beliefs are miniscule, but we have a wide variety of experiences of the Divine. And that’s what interests me.

The Angels

The Angels

I find the wide variety of spiritual experiences fascinating. I’m more aligned with William James who wrote The Varieties of Religious Experiences. James was described as having been impatient with his academic colleagues and their endless hairsplitting over matters that had no relation to life. That’s kind of how I feel about discussions about beliefs. In his book, he attempted to penetrate into the hearts of human beings rather than establish dogma. I, too, am most touched by heart-centered sharing.

Varieties of Relig Exp

I also belong to an Integral Spirituality Study Group. We’ve just begun studying Steve McIntosh’s book, The Presence of the Infinite: The Spiritual Experience of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. In the introduction, McIntosh outlines the values found in our country’s major worldviews along with the differing beliefs stemming from them. In Chapter 1, he expresses respect and appreciation for the strengths of each worldview–our experiences of beauty, truth, and goodness. He then holds up a vision of using these experiences as guiding principles in overcoming our belief system’s shortcomings. In that way, we can generate powerful spiritual leadership for resolving the many challenges we face in our world today.


I am inspired by McIntosh’s vision and grateful to have been given the ability to approach a dialogue about beliefs in a way that has the potential for co-creating a better world. I’ve moved forward since our discussion at Angel’s last week. That has to be an experience of goodness. I’ve grown.

2015 Reflections ~ 2016 Intentions

Elijah House

Elijah House

For me, 2015 started at Thanksgiving 2014. As was often true for me during the holidays, I was focused on what was missing in my life and feeling depressed. I was stuck in the writing of my memoir and felt the need for guidance. I thought time away might give me the direction I needed. And so I made arrangements for a silent retreat in Elijah House, a cottage in the woods at the Transfiguration Center of Spiritual Renewal near West Milton, Ohio. Last year on New Years Day, I wrote about the still, small voice of the Divine within giving me what I hoped for that weekend–clear guidance for how to write and deepen my memoir to serve a higher purpose. I set my 2015 intention to increase my awareness of the light of grace in the midst of life’s messiness.

Well, 2015 was certainly a grace-filled, messy year. My condo was no longer serving me and in January the way opened for me to move. The end of April I put it up for sale. At the same time, I found an editor for my memoir. I’d been impressed with some of her online comments about the way she works, and when I read, “I want my clients to know I’m their biggest cheerleader and greatest fan,” I knew she was the editor for me.


The condo selling/home searching process was messy. I continued to work on my memoir while my condo didn’t sell and properties I liked did. My faithful friends assured me the right place for me wasn’t available yet and when it was, my condo would sell. They were right. In August, a buyer appeared and I found the perfect home for me.

The middle of September, I sent my manuscript to my editor. I told her I wasn’t in a hurry for her feedback because I’d be busy with moving. As my focus switched from writing to rehabbing my home, I convinced myself my memoir wasn’t that good and would probably never be published. I decided to be grateful for the transformation I experienced in writing it and for the healing in my relationship with my daughter. If all the work I put into it came to nothing more, that was a lot for which to be thankful.

On October 5, I took possession of the house and began the rehab process. On October 15, I moved in. By Thanksgiving I was settled enough to host a family dinner. Being in a house with a meditation room overlooking a woods and a creek gives me much joy.

Sun on trees

On November 29, I received my editor’s first comments. When I saw it drop into my inbox, I started shaking. I did a few things around the house to work up the courage to read it. I’d been discouraged by critical feedback in the past and braced myself to face the fact that I just wasn’t cut out to be a memoir writer. Oh, ye of little trust.

I headed for the recliner in my meditation room to read her four pages of comments. While most pointed to what needed revising, my confidence was bolstered by these words: “Part I, in particular, will need reworking to bring it to the quality of the rest of the manuscript.”

She went on: “…your manuscript is eminently publishable and quite astonishing. It is more intelligently written, more thoughtful, and more reflective than many memoirs I’ve read…”

I sat there stunned and thinking: she sees me very differently than I see myself. This woman from Wyoming who I’ve never met in person or talked with on the phone had seen into my soul.Full Circle

Judy brought me full circle, validating the message I received at my silent retreat about the deeper message in my memoir and the way I was to write it. In our further correspondence, she continues to change my perception of myself. And I am definitely experiencing her as my biggest cheerleader and greatest fan. Grace brought us together.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ~Corrie ten Boom

And so, at the end of 2015, I stand in awe at the light of grace. As my memoir attests, my awakening has been a long one and is a process of reawakening and reawakening.

And my intention for 2016: Increase my trust in the light of the Divine within me and all of us. Be faithful to my part in co-creating a better world by risking revealing my messy true self–the one I write about in A Long Awakening to Grace.

When we’re willing to be imperfect and real, the gifts of courage, compassion, and connection just keep giving. Paraphrased from Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.