July 20, 2005


On a few peaks and passes in the Sierra Nevada, well above the timberline and at least 12,000 feet in elevation, there is something that can be found in few other places in the world: silence. Amidst the grey rock and sand and the snow that takes all summer to melt, there are no trees through which the wind can whistle. With no trees, there are no birds singing happily. There are few animals of any type; occasionally one can see a small lizard or bug scurry across a rock, but they do so silently.

I remember hiking through one of those passes. There were, in fact, several sounds that day: my hiking boots scraping across the sandy soil, and my heavy breathing as my lungs struggled to find oxygen in the thin air. But when I sat down to take a rest and enjoy the view, and my breathing quieted down, I was struck by the silence that surrounded me like the "mummy bag" in which I would sleep later that night.

Chances are, your world is not silent right now. If your world is like mine, you might be hearing the hum of the computer, the cartoons your kid is watching in the next room, the water filter on your fish tank, the refrigerator in the kitchen turning on and off, the phone ringing (boy, to have it ring right in the middle of writing this sentence is spooky...), and many other sounds. And this is the quiet part of my day.

I'm an introvert by nature. I need my quiet times. And so, with interest, I read an article in the paper this morning about the Abbey of New Clairvaux, a trappist monastery located about 90 minutes from my home. The article says, among other things, that "the abbey's retreats are self-guided, governed by contemplation rather than a roster of seminars. The idea is simple. Give people time and space to pray, meditate, write and wrestle with larger questions that get lost amid workplace demands and birthday trips to Chuck E. Cheese's." Every night, after evening prayers at 7:30, silence is observed until morning prayers the next day. Is this place for me, or what?

Unfortunately, even though I will be driving right by the abbey on my way to Portland Saturday, I won't have time to stop. We leave Saturday, probably before sunrise, and will drive 550 miles to get to Portland in time for dinner and the opening worship service Saturday night. Hopefully. With kids, you never know how long a drive will take.

Once in Portland, I will be searching for those moments of (relative) silence. I am limiting the activities I plan to participate in, especially group banquets and gatherings. My friend Steve is preaching at a nearby church on Sunday morning, and I really want to go hear him, but I'm not sure if I want to drive one hour to get there. Perhaps instead I can take a walk along the Willamet River. Perhaps I'll even learn the correct way to spell Willamet. (I do know how to pronounce it, though; a friend who lives in Eugene once told me to just remember this: "It's Willamet, dammit!") Or maybe I'll escape to the prayer room that will be set up somewhere within the convention center.

One thing I know for sure is that, after spending five days with six or seven thousand church folks, my search for silence will be even more necessary.


Jim said...

I understand the need for silence, it being vital to find on a regular basis. But I also have grandkids and I've read you enough to know how much the "noise" of kids, in general, bring to your life. Just finished reading another post I think you might like: here's the link..... http://thewearypilgrim.typepad.com/the_weary_pilgrim/ He's a Canadian blog friend hiking in the mountains. Peace........

jo(e) said...

I would think that either the Japanese botanical garden or the Chinese garden would be the places to go for silence in Portland. (Okay, I've only been there once but found both those gardens wonderful places for reflection.)

I am extrovert by nature, but I still crave silence. Twice each year, I go on retreat to a Benedictine monastery about 140 miles from my home. I love and need those quiet weekends of silence, writing, thinking, and praying.