There is a vast amount of territory encompassed by that small word “hear”, and much more than just our ears are involved.
We constantly register and interpret sounds as we make our way through each day. The more finely we attune our attention, the more we notice. In addition to acknowledging sound, hearing also involves comprehension; reasoning; responding. Our thought processes and filters help us sort out and attach meaning to what our ears pick up. What we hear (or don’t) can spark intense emotional reactions and evoke all sorts of memories. Some sounds are “music to our ears”: calming; peaceful; joyous; exhilarating; inspiring; providing connection and understanding; prompting gratitude. Some alert us to danger. Some are just noise: loud; raucous; distracting; divisive.
Beyond the external sounds that fill our days, there is also, as Simon and Garfunkel put it, “…the sound of silence…”. Intentionally removing ourselves from the din allows us to rest, recharge, and re-focus. In order to hear the “…still, small voice…”, the “gentle whisper” of the Holy One, as Elijah describes it in I Kings 19, we have to quiet everything else. Attending to what’s going on inside of us – the inner dialogue of the heart, mind, and spirit – is a vital part of discernment, and necessary for living authentically and well.
But just like not every sound is pleasant, not every experience of silence is good either.
Compared to what it used to be, my world has never been more silent. There are no computer game sound effects wafting in from the next room. No 1812 Overture or Man of La Mancha or 1776 soundtracks playing. No mealtime conversations. No snippets of songs being hummed or sung. No reassuring rhythmic breathing to lull me to sleep each night. And that silence screams Bill’s absence.
Being widowed, by its very nature, is isolating but the silence that permeated my days after Bill’s death magnified that feeling of aloneness a thousand-fold. Where I had previously turned intentionally to silence in order to destress and re-center myself, I now found it - and other spiritual practices - too painful. We had both been pastors, and instead of bringing comfort those things just amplified my sense of loss. God seemed a million miles away and completely silent as well, which heaped guilt and confusion on top of the mountains of grief and pain I was already experiencing.
I’ve hesitated to write about this because frankly, I’m ashamed and embarrassed by it. Even though I didn’t “lose” my faith per se it was sorely tried and tested; I judged that I – the former pastor, of all people! - should have known better, done better, been better. I should have had my S%*# together (and kept my S%*# together). (Pardon my French.)
It took a long time to emerge from that ‘dark night of the soul’. Because I am a writer, a word person, one who thinks best on paper, reading and journaling scripture eventually drew me back to the Sacred. I’m convinced those holding space and praying for me carried me along when I could not, spiritually speaking, put one foot in front of the other and move forward on my own and that the Spirit interceded for me, bearing to the throne of Mercy and the altar of Grace all those things I could not utter myself. And the Holy One, the One who loves us without end, was there all the time, patiently whispering again and again, like the guy in the old Verizon commercial, “…can you hear me now?”, until I was once again able to answer.
Have you felt lost, lonely, and distant from the Holy? How did you reconnect?
These are some of the words that helped me:
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down; you are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely…
“…Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say ‘surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become as night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you…”
Psalm 139:1-4, 7-11a, NRSV