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Quiet

September 29, 2011

It has always been a mystery to my wife and children that we don’t listen to the radio in the car (while I’m driving). Consequently, the car has become a place of great conversation, laughter, joke telling, unusual noise-making, sleeping, and, above all, quiet.

I treasure quiet. It may stem from growing up with two brothers and a sister, all of us born within five years. There were few opportunities for quiet in the Daniels house when we were little. Childhood was generally good – and loud!

I seek quiet. In 53 years I have built a life surrounded by people, most of whom I love very much: family, friends, Church family, and the good people of Timbercrest. I have often said that there is no better sound in the world than a room full of people engaged in pleasant conversation. I have few regrets about the people in my life, but a life full of people has one big downside – people are noisy.

Quiet eludes me. I set aside time for quiet and find a load of laundry on the way, a dish to put away, an article to browse or an unfinished crossword puzzle to complete.

I need quiet. There is nothing more refreshing to me than a few minutes of not saying or hearing a thing. There is a recollective effect. I think of it like the catsup settling back into the bottle after being poured out. The catsup doesn’t slide back in a hurry, but slowly, imperceptibly and, notably, quietly. When it settles back in, it’s ready to be used on the next plate of hashbrowns.

Sometimes I don’t like what the quiet brings me. If the quiet is sudden or unplanned, I can find my mind quickly creating to-do lists or recalling undone tasks from the day. If the quiet is too brooding, I find myself recalling memories of things that have been painful or repressed. Often, quiet confronts me with my short-comings, poorly kept resolutions or frankly impossible ideals.

But, overall, quiet sustains me. I find if I don’t have those few moments of quiet in the morning, my whole day seems askew. If I don’t get to be quiet before a decision at work, the decision seems to lack my own commitment and energy.

Quiet sustains me through what it gives me rather than what it takes from me (noise).

Quiet gives me inner peace. Working through those lists, memories, brooding and other experiences in the quiet helps to bring resolution to them. Resolution can bring reconciliation and reconciliation – with myself or with other people – brings peace.

Quiet brings relief. Almost always accompanying quiet is stillness, that is to say inactivity. By allowing my body to be still, my mind finds quiet. In the quiet of my mind, my body can rest from sometimes constant motion. And that brings relief.

How to enter quiet:

1) Make time for it. Without making time, there can be no true sense of quiet.

2) Slowly let go. I find that praying the Jesus Prayer can be transitional. Slowly breathing and praying “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” creates a means for my heart and mind to let go of noise and capture the quiet.

3) Recall the need. All that I wrote above speaks of my need. Quiet speaks to my need.

4) Do what you can, not what you can’t. Maybe only two or three minutes of quiet is available. Do that. There are other times when a whole evening opens up and there can be hours of quiet. The quiet itself is important, more than the quantity of quiet.

A short story:

I have been in many, many different experiences of worship, from high masses to holiness camp meetings to our familiar weekly services at Peoria. But when I recollect the single most meaningful time of worship I’ve ever had, the time when I’ve met God more clearly and dearly than any other, my heart runs back to the Clear Creek Meetinghouse at Earlham College. It was at Indiana Yearly Meeting in 1990. In those days, there was always an opportunity for a quiet meeting for worship – the norm for the Society of Friends – in the schedule of business, banquets, fellowship, and argument.

There were only about a dozen of us in the meetinghouse even though there were a few hundred at yearly meeting. I didn’t realize how much I needed quiet until the meeting for worship began.

The plain cherry-wood benches let a load off my feet but their plainness also took a load off my mind. The plain walls were devoid of agendas, minutes, conversations and politicking. It was several minutes before I settled into the silence. An urge to speak arose in my gut. I listened for guidance. The quiet was definitive. It was not time to speak.

Several minutes later, another urge. “You are a chatty one” was the thought that came to mind. No words came to my lips so I remained silent again.

Around the room, the dozen or so others seemed to be experiencing the same self-examination in the quiet that I was.

No one spoke.

Just before the rise of meeting, my quiet heart was full and refreshed in ways that I had rarely experienced in (at that time) 14 years as a Christian. I looked out the plain, clear windows of the meetinghouse to see the bluest sky I can recall, framed in the emerald green of the college lawn and the aging green of trees in August. For a moment I thought I had a brush with God Himself.

Quiet brought me to that place. And I go there again as often as I can.

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