If you’ve been around here with me for any length of time, you know that over the past several months I’ve been on a pilgrimage of sorts, a weekly trip to a Benedictine monastery near my home for a half hour, or an hour, depending on whether I stayed with the brothers for lunch. (I’ve written about that at a quiet little space called Making Headroom.)
My hope was to make this journey for 52 weeks, in search of a spacious, quiet place. I found it in the cool stone walls of a chapel, in the rhythm of a steady liturgy, in the quiet of a place where needless noise remained unheard, in the space that opens when one simply isn’t in a hurry to be anywhere but right here.
I wanted to learn to find God in the quiet, so I could learn to find him in the noise.
To find him right here.
Mastered that, I have not. But I’ve learned it.
My journey has been cut short by the sad new of the closing of the Abbey for unfortunate but sound reasons of their own. But it continues on in other ways. (more…)
Last night I took a walk. Usually I go across the street to the small trail around the Little League fields. It usually ends with me walking a while, then sitting on the bench letting the evening sun stroke my skin and watching T-ball players toddle around the bases with a helmet bigger than their whole bodies. But last night, the sun was just dropping so I turned west and walked into it, across the highway and onto the gravel road out of town.
I thought about taking a picture of the sunset, and walked around back of a machine shed to get a view beyond the obstructions. Seeing it there, slipping down behind the round hay bales, trying to wash orange and gold over the purple-gray clouds streaked across its front, I opted to just stare into it instead.
A little further down the road, I heard a young bird, urged out of the nest but not yet ready to make a go of it on its own. Almost as though it had swallowed a tiny metronome, it sat in the grass entranced by its own rhythmic yelping, the downy fuzz circling its head moving in time as the orange diamond opened and closed, seeming to swallow up its face each time. I stood with it a while, thought about what it might mean, this squawking bundle of helpless feathers.
I decided it didn’t need to mean anything. (more…)
I’m seated beside a young Lutheran pastor here on retreat. His voice rings out above the others as we sing a hymn and I try to follow the notes of an unfamiliar melody. No matter since I can barely read them anymore. I ponder the hymns bound in this blue volume, the single line of notes. No four-part harmony dotting lines of the staff. Is its absence for simplicity? Uniformity? I always find the harmony anyway; the melody always dances a step or two out of my range. And it’s fitting for me, in this place. But I try to keep it quiet, soft, uncertain of the reception of such diversity.
The Gospel is read from John 3 and I remember that no matter where I go looking, where I ever find him, it all comes back to this. God so loved the world…
The light has come into the world… I’m staring at the floor following the dance of the green and orange and red stained glass light on the floor tile while words of Gospel truth dance in the cool air. And people loved the darkness rather than the light… Just like that, the light shifts and vanishes from the floor and a grayness seems to cloak the space around me.
Just like that.
So then I walk by sound, not by sight. Movement makes its way in a sort of clunky unison, not synchronized, but together. Hinged wooden seats thump as they rise and fall, kneelers drop to the floor, robes rustle. Heavy footsteps paired with shuffling ones trace their steps from one end of the chapel to the other, the length so needfully punctuated with a simplicity of empty, yet inhabited, time. Each sound nudges me to the next thing, nearly without thought or effort.
The reading draws to its close and we join voices in the antiphon:
My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
L. L. Barkat knows a thing or two about years. She spent one in her yard. I was thinking about her year-long pilgrimages, not mine, when we had a brief Twitter conversation about a recent Curator article she’d written. She explored the idea of committing to a particular journey for a year and whether such a thing is just a “stunty” gimmick or the avenue to unexpected discovery.
The question she asked me was one I’d not asked myself: Any years inviting you lately?
In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen told of traveling through a large city when it began to feel as though he were driving through a dictionary:
Wherever I looked there were words trying to take my eyes from the road. They said, “Use me, take me, buy me, drink me, smell me, touch me, kiss me, sleep with me.” In such a world who can maintain a respect for words?
Nouwen went on to suggest that the words with the most power to speak into our souls are those which come from silence. Not word upon word upon word.
Over the last long while, the journey has taken me off in search of a place I describe with two words: quiet and spacious. My soul seems quite insistent on this very thing. A quiet, spacious place. One where God is not asked to shout over the noise and where He has enough room to move.
It’s not that He can’t be found anywhere else — He can be found wherever He likes.
But it’s where I’m finding Him best.
And these days, I really need to find Him.
I’ll be practicing that silence here for the next handful of days, letting some space open and asking Him to speak from the stillness.
This week I’ll not add to the dictionary you drive through.
I invite you to savor the quiet.
The more talk, the less truth;
the wise measure their words.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Way of the Heart:
Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry.
New York: Seabury, 1981. Print.
Some ill-planned scheduling last week left me some time between appointments on a trip into central Minnesota. I stopped a while by the road because there was water, and based on this week’s weather, soon it will be ice.
The wind pushed me and waves splashed and trucks rumbled down the highway right behind me.
And I remembered, with some urgency, that sometimes, really, I just need to be quiet.
I need to remember that being quiet thing a little more often.
Today, for instance.
Photo: somewhere along Highway 75