I was at the Wehr Nature Center this morning with a group of 11 first graders, looking for ingredients to cook up a batch of soil. Soil. It’s one of the two most precious substances on this planet (along with water). We wouldn’t have anything to eat if it weren’t for soil. So why not teach first graders to appreciate it? We went out on the trail to find the living and non-living ingredients in soil. It’s been raining pretty heavily and steadily this week, so all the trails are soft with soggy wood chips and all the leaves are damp. Suddenly, I noticed something: silence. The cloud cover and the moisture and the dropping temperatures are keeping people away, I surmised. After waving goodbye to the kids, I decided to spend an hour on the trails alone, relishing the quiet.
There is a graciousness to quiet. It’s very hard to cultivate in an urban setting. Noise pollution is ubiquitous, so mostly we deny it. I am particularly aware of this functional denial because I employ it every moment. I have a cyst on the arachnoid membrane beneath my skull. I discovered this about 6 years ago when I went to the doctor with tinnitus and got an MRI. My hearing was tested, and I got a follow-up image 6 months later. Basically, the cyst has put some pressure on my auditory nerve and caused the ringing in my right ear. It’s not growing, and I don’t get headaches, so I opted to leave it alone. I have ringing in both ears now, but it’s not usually a recognizable tonal ringing, more of an ‘ocean sound’ that causes some hearing difficulties. It’s very easy to ignore. When is life ever so quiet that you’d hear the blood rushing in your ears? The only time that it bothers me is when I am lured by the elusive possibility of complete silence. Sort of like light pollution. When does light bother you except when you are lured by the elusive possibility of a perfect starry night? Or when you’re trying to fall asleep? And when is it ever a good time to have elective brain surgery?? Certainly not while my husband was dying, and certainly not now when I don’t have medical insurance. So I’ll skip it.
But stillness and quiet at the side of a pond is a magical gift. I did startle some mallards who were hiding by the reeds. Two flew away, but the other two just paddled a few feet out and then turned around. I came quite close to a fat, male cardinal and a red-headed woodpecker. I got the feeling that everything was in a subdued mode. The colors were muted, the sounds were muted, animal activity was less raucous than usual. A holy hush, perhaps.
The Lord is in his holy temple, let the all the earth be silent before him. (Hab. 2:20)
That reminds me of my Dad. So did the cardinal. Dad could whistle the cardinal’s song and used it to call us to attention. I learned to do it, too. (My kids probably hate the sound, but it works.) Who do you think of in silent moments? What calls to you out of silence?
“What calls to you out of silence?”
As I don’t believe there truly is silence this side of the grave, my practice is to listen. I enjoy the hush of quiet places. There I can hear my breath, the life that’s in me and around me, and when I am still enough, the music of the spheres and the very pulse of the universe itself.