During chores, I turn the radio to NPR, because I’m fascinated with current events. My attention is so fixed I almost worship the whole drama. But what good does that do? I’m aggravated or saddened by events I can’t change.
Years ago, Krista Tippett introduced Gordon Hempton, one of the first acoustical ecologists. I stopped picking my stall, and listened. “Silence, as Gordon Hempton experiences and seeks to preserve it, is not a vacuum defined by emptiness. It’s not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. True quiet has presence, he says, and is a ‘think tank of the soul.’ It is quiet that is quieting.
“Gordon Hempton also shares a fascinating piece of truth that human ears are most attuned at their peak sensitivity not to other human sounds — but to birdsong. In our not-so-distant past, the sound of birds signaled a habitat that would be compatible for human flourishing.”
It’s true if I listen for the small sounds, my thoughts begin arriving. I can be thankful for breathing, for the sparrows, the wind playing the barn roof like a cello, and when snow falls, its brushing against the barn. I listen to my footsteps, the miracle of my feet tapping the ground.
So next time your radio or podcast or TV is playing as background noise, shut them off and listen to the silence, listen for the sounds that emerge.
I wish I could say I followed my own advice most of the time, but I have discovered how podcasts help me stay focused while cleaning the barn when the weather is miserable, or cleaning house or filing papers.
I’ve been very interested in hearing what Jewish people have to say about their faith. Christianity is rooted in Judaism. There are insights, and ways of seeing scripture that can refresh my own perspectives of how God works in the world. I have also been interested in how Jewish commentators view the God inspired violence in the Old Testament. When I was particularly wondering this, I came across Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Not in God’s Name which was precisely about that subject. (Sometimes the Lord hears those meek, tiny desires that are more like wonderings than requests. The same happened with our new car as well.) For quite sometime, Goodreads has been reminding me I need to finish it. What I’ve read so far, well, there’s a lot of grace along with insights into the Abraham story I hadn’t thought of before.
Ever since I first heard Sacks on an On Being panel about happiness I have admired his thought. I could listen to him all day, so I was delighted when I found he has a podcast. They are short and dense. In “The Power of Speech” he spoke about how holy our speech is, and how it is profane to gossip about people. He says, “What made Judaism different, however, is that it is supremely a religion of holy words. With words God created the universe: ‘And God said, Let there be…and there was.’ Through words He communicated with humankind. In Judaism, language itself is holy. That is why lashon hara, the use of language to harm, is not merely a minor offence. It involves taking something that is holy and using it for purposes that are unholy. It is a kind of desecration.”
Though I’ve been working not gossiping for at least twenty years, Sacks’ words made me see how sacred our words are and how sacred our friends and neighbors are. We call it venting these days. Back in the day, I saw that expressing those kinds of opinions was like playing God, saying how I thought a person should behave. (I still do that, only I’m better about saying what I think directly, which can be as offensive as gossip.)
At any rate Sacks’ podcast offers some good insights into Jewish thought and the root of Christianity.
Another podcast I’ve discovered that speaks to my overwhelm and inability to make decisions is Emily Freeman’s The Next Right Thing Podcast. There is so much grace in what Freeman shares. In a recent podcast she talked about starting over, and that each new day is a chance to start again. Considering how I’ve frittered time paying attention to the political scene, her words in the podcast Feeling Stuck? Start Again sounded like grace to me.
Bruce and I have been praying with Morgan Guyton pretty much twice a day for Lent as a small way to serve the Lord and support a Morgan’s work with college students. We use Common Prayer on the web which enables us to read the same liturgy even though we are in different states. Bruce reads along in the book version of Common Prayer. I have felt uneasy with how quiet our lives are, though maybe that enables us to bring a quiet presence to our friends who might be struggling. Here’s a passage we read in the April 12 reading: “Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, wrote, ‘What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. What we do is so little that we may seem to be constantly daily. But so did he fail. He met with apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the seeds fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest.'” These words felt like reassurance–“This is the way, walk in it.”
Let me leave you with how we’ve closed out the day this Lent from Common Prayer: “Almighty God, we give you thanks for surrounding us, as daylight fades, with the brightness of the vesper light; and we implore you of your great mercy that, as you enfold us with the radiance of light, so you would shine into our hearts the brightness of you Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
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