The summer evenings in Connecticut where I live are filled with the sound of “peepers” – tree frogs, cicadas, and other small creatures that permeate the night air. For some not used to the noise it may be just that – noise. But for me it is a cadence of quiet calm. Not silence, but a contemplative hum breaking the darkness outside my open bedroom window.
Last week I was on vacation along the coast of Maine. Our days were filled with the sounds of silence; the crashing of waves and cries of seagulls accompanied us as we climbed the rocks surrounding Pemaquid Lighthouse. The sound of the cast-iron chime hanging from the house down the road, soulfully striking its own rhythm with the night wind, lulled us to sleep.
Our five-year-old granddaughter was with us for the week. She enjoyed climbing the rocks, wandering around tide pools in search of small creatures, and sitting on high rocks looking out into the ocean. It was silent play, filled with wonder and stillness.
What is the meaning of silence? Is it comfort, nothingness like a vacuum, or the absence of sound such as a voice that should be speaking?
the definition of silence
noun 1: forbearance from speech or noise: MUTENESS —often used interjectionally 2: absence of sound or noise: STILLNESS // in the silence of the night 3: absence of mention: a: OBLIVION, OBSCURITY b: SECRECY // weapons research was conducted in silence
transitive verb 1: to compel or reduce to silence: STILL // silenced the crowd 2: SUPPRESS // silence dissent 3: to cause to cease hostile firing or criticism // silence the opposition
Upon my return home I found Jerome Berryman’s new book, Silence, awaiting me. It’s back cover notes, “It today’s frenzied world, children need ways to discover silence–stillness from within. But silence is hard to speak about because it is wordless. This illustrated book offers children (and those who love them) a means to experience contemplative silence. With words and images, Silence offers space for wonder, which opens the creative process, and in turn gives life.” In simple words and beautiful images, silence is defined.
Silence is one of the four genres of Godly Play (in addition to parables, liturgical action, and sacred stories) and is an important element of this Montessori-approach to children’s spiritual formation. There is even a special lesson on Silence that involves bringing children into the worship space to experience silence. As illustrated below (from two pages in the book) we live in a noisy world and seek ways to be present with God in silence.
Yet silence can also be harmful.
As I was enjoying the “silence” of my time away, the Republican National Convention was held, including fanfare at the White House with flags waving, fireworks, and an audience seated closely to one another (largely unmasked). Meanwhile across the country many Americans continued to demonstrate. Nights were broken apart with violence amidst peaceful protests.
The times we live in are not ripe for silence when it comes to justice. The past six-plus months have called us to break the silence that has existed for far too long in our nation. While Elijah may have found God in the still, small silence as opposed to the earthquake and storm, God is calling us to go to those places that are uncomfortable. Those of us who have lived silently with our white privilege are called to use our voices.
Let us use silence to contemplate how God is calling us to act and speak. Let us not be lulled to sleep by the sound of crickets.
In Godly Play fashion, “I wonder where you are in silence?”