In our worship service last Sunday, the focus was on stillness as a spiritual practice. Stillness is the theme for the month of December; akin to stillness is the dark and cold that are part of this month, and akin to stillness is silence.
I shared a poem on Sunday by Rev. Mark Belletini called “Ode to Silence.” I am moved here to share another of his poems that also talks about silence, and this one is called “Via Negativa.”
Not the silence of a child finally asleep in a crib--
not the silence of pear blossoms falling--
not the silence of singers after the song--
not the silence of embarrassed strangers--
not the silence of streets when gunshot stops--
not the silence of rage--
not the red-faced silence of frustration--
not the silence of the exhausted--
not the silence of the gardener gardening alone--
the silence of those who have been together
and do not need to hide their aloneness with words,
the silence of lovers
who have come to a place of quiet comfort,
the silence of a newborn at breast,
the silence of an overflowing human heart
under the stars at night,
the silence of friends holding still
in a long and tender embrace.
(from the collection Sonata for Voice and Silence by Mark Belletini, published in 2008 by Skinner House Books in Boston)
I love this poem for its images and for its celebration of silence – the right kinds of silence. Yes, there is awkward silence and angry silence, but there is loving silence and sacred silence. Sometimes we are uncomfortable with silence, and I think we need to take the time to figure out if the silence is a good silence or a negative silence.
As a classroom teacher, I learned that there were good and bad silences in the classroom also. There is the productive silence when everyone is working individually. After the teacher asks a question, the silence can be the negative silence of boredom or of being afraid to speak; or the productive silence of students thinking about the question before anyone offers an answer. This is the silence that a good teacher cultivates and values.
In this time of growing darkness and coldness, in this time of continued isolation from loved ones and fear of sickness, we might experience a silence of emptiness, lifelessness, despair. May that negative silence be countered by music, or by a phone call to a loved one. And we might experience a silence of introspection, of prayer, of peacefulness. May this sacred silence hold us and give us room to grow.
Divine spirit of light and of darkness, of noise and of silence, be with us now.
May we be present in this time of Hanukkah, of Winter Solstice and Yule, of quiet and dark, to the generative silence. May we embrace sacred silence and find wisdom and peace within.
Shalom. A salaam alaikem.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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