The whole world is at rest, and is quiet:
and they break forth into singing. ~ Isaiah 14:7
The American poet Wendell Berry wrote a very small, very subtle untitled poem in 1997. In just four lines and seventeen words, the poet helped me to understand something I have been wrestling with this year in my Lenten journey.
Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet
The poem caught my eye for two reasons. First it reminds me of the engagement ring I bought for my wife Kathleen. Hers was not your traditional diamond ring that all her relatives were expecting. Instead we decided together on one that had been designed by an artist known for etching little poems into her jewelry.
This particular ring spoke to both Kathleen and I for reasons I can only assume had something to do with God’s divine hand that led us to one another. Etched on top of the ring were the words of the 18th Century Jewish mystical rabbi Dev Baer or Mezritch:
Before the first light, light.
Before the first word, silence.
Yet for some reason silence makes us human beings uncomfortable. Even thought God tells us to, “Be still and know that I am your God” we still squirm and squeal just to let the world know that we exist. But we might benefit from sitting still in the silence; to use it for our advantage, or at least our deeper understanding of life.
The second reason I like this poem is that it suggests there’s a musical quality to quietness. Think about that for a moment. The rhythm of life, the heartbeat of all creation is not noisy but quiet. This does not imply that quiet is noiseless. A well-trained ear can hear the beat of electrical impulses that dance in the air and move through the silent atmosphere. It’s as if the invisible spirit of God is trying to be noticed. Silence is a noise that gets our attention – it screams out to us that there is no escaping God’s presence.
“Solitude, silence, and prayer are often the best ways to self-knowledge. Not because they offer solutions for the complexity of our lives but because they bring us in touch with our sacred center, where God dwells. That sacred center may not be analysed. It is the place of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise.”
God etches little messages within us, and within all of creation. We need to look carefully to find them. Sometimes, we have to listen carefully too in order to hear them speak out to us. Just as a sunset makes no noise, or the starlight heavens say not a word, they both speak volumes about God’s vast greatness, and both sing praises to God’s great works without uttering a word.
As you try to find your quiet place during your final days of this Lent journey, I hope you will take the time to meditate on the words of the great mystic and theologian, St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Go and preach the gospel always; use words only if necessary.”
Prayer: Mysterious and wonderful Lord God, be with me today to quiet the noises that are inside me. For you alone have the power to silence the world that screams and distracts me from being with you. More importantly God, help me to sit peacefully in your Presence as I seek to find a deeper relationship with you and your marvelous creation. Amen.
Berry, Wendell. A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997. (Counterpoint: 1998) p. 207.