Rebecca Bratten Weiss: Silence, Feminism, and Literature (Episode 42)

This week’s episode marks the one-year anniversary of Encountering Silence! Our pilot episode was released a year ago today.

It seems appropriate, therefore, that on this first-year anniversary, we release an episode that marks a new “first” for us. Not only is it the first time we’ve interviewed Catholic author, philosopher and feminist Rebecca Bratten Weiss, but also the first time we’ve recorded an episode in front of a live audience.

This was recorded on Sunday, November 11, 2018 at Terra Incognita, a literary conference and workshop sponsored by the Convivium Journal, which Rebecca Bratten Weiss edits. Kevin and Cassidy both attended the conference and took the opportunity to interview Rebecca — and perform what we hope will the first of many, many Encountering Silence live events.

We decided, as part of our one-year observance, to release this episode with only very light editing — for two reasons. First, we felt that the first twelve minutes, where Cassidy and Kevin talk about the podcast and introduce themselves and the podcast to the audience, was worth keeping for the sake of new (newer) listeners who might enjoy hearing how we introduce ourselves.

But our other reason for leaving this episode (mostly) unedited was simply that we felt it would be a fun way to share with our listening circle, just what it feels like to be with us as we record.

We did edit out a few obvious bloopers. But for the most part, you get the feel of one of our recording sessions, from getting interrupted by a cellphone, to our moment of silence before we “officially” begin recording.

We hope you enjoy it!

If you set forth on a voyage across the ocean, silence is a little bit like that, in that you will meet many many things, as Odysseus did on his voyages: strange monsters, dragons, friends, seducers… As a writer, one has to go into that realm because so much that we have experienced in our lives is stored there in our memory and we then find that the things that we remember are still alive there, very very alive, moving around like little strange sea creatures, connecting with each other, perhaps breeding and producing new creatures that now reside in your imagination. — Rebecca Bratten Weiss

But of course, the real treat in this episode is our chance to chat with Rebecca Bratten Weiss. Novelist, poet, editor, professor of English and philosophy, co-founder of the New Pro-Life Movement, and self described “Christian rebel,” she is the manager of the Catholic Channel on Patheos, where she also maintains her blog, Suspended in Her Jar.  In her blog bio she says “I’m interested in eco-growing and sustainable economies, a theology of the real female body, social justice, and poking at the patriarchy. I write poems about insects and other things that some find disgusting, and novels that are likely to be banned in certain quarters.”

I’m a Catholic woman — I’ve been silenced my entire life. I lived in religious semi-community situations, so it was constant silencing, and it’s knowing what you can’t say, and a long list of things you can’t say, and the words you can’t use, especially as a woman; and I’ve taught in Catholic academia, and that meant knowing what you can’t say — but then I said some things anyway! — Rebecca Bratten Weiss

Her books include Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Debut and Catholic Philosopher Chick Comes on Strong (both co-authored with Regina Doman), as well as a chapbook of poems, Palaces of Dust. Another chapbook, Mudwoman, co-authored by Joanna Penn Cooper, has recently been released.

Rebecca Bratten Weiss muses on how silence is a “strange land,” a place where writers access the wonders and terrors of their imagination; she reflects on how silence has been a gift for her in relation to interacting with her horse, the relationship between silence, intimacy, writing, and anxiety; and the story of how she experienced toxic silence, particularly in Catholic settings. But even after losing her job, she found new opportunities to challenge toxic silence through her work with Patheos and Catholic Women Speak.

She rounds out the conversation by sharing one of her poems, “Milliners.”

I feel sad that so many people who love the great books and who taught me the great books have, I believe, turned against everything that’s beautiful in western civilization. — Rebecca Bratten Weiss

Some of the authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

Episode 42: Silence, Feminism, and Literature: A Conversation with Rebecca Bratten Weiss
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson and Cassidy Hall
Date Recorded: November 11, 2018

Dear Listeners, Help Us Spread the Word About Silence!

We live in a world that is getting noisier and noisier.

More and more people recognize that we need silence, not only for our spiritual well-being, but for psychological, creative, and even physical wellness.

But for many of us, silence is elusive. We struggle with noise — both outside and within. And many of us also struggle with “toxic” silence: situations where we find that a kind of silence has been imposed on us (or on others): not the silence of contemplation, but the silence of oppression or rejection.

Our podcast, Encountering Silence, was created to be a forum where people could come together to celebrate healthy silence, take a stand against toxic silence, and explore how best to respond to the noisy world we live in.

The podcast has exceeded our wildest expectations. We have made new friends and strengthened existing relationships. We have learned so much, especially from the amazing dialogue partners who have joined with us — people like Parker Palmer, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, and Barbara Holmes.

It’s been a tremendous joy, and as we approach our 1st anniversary, we are excited about what is to come.

But we also are conscious that podcasting requires a significant investment in time, in equipment, and in labor. We have been humbled by what a big job it is. Frankly, if there weren’t three of us, we might not have been able to pull it off.

Patreon allows you to support writers and other artists whose creative work you love.

So friends, we want to humbly ask for your help.

Would you pitch in a small amount each month — to help us continue to record and produce new episodes of our podcast?

You can pledge a dollar a month — or $3, or $5. It’s all good! Sure, you can give more if you want, but we’re just asking for whatever amount it would be a joy for you to give — to help us to continue to produce Encountering Silence.

Patreon.com enables people like you who enjoy listening to our podcast to make a small monthly pledge to support this work.

When you do this, you help us to continue creating the podcast you love — episodes that inform and inspire people about the beauty, splendor, and necessity of freely embraced silence.

You pledge as much or as little as you want. You can change, pause, or cancel your patronage at any time. Whether or not you give, my blog always remains freely available for you and for everyone.


Click here to learn more: www.patreon.com/EncounteringSilence

Becoming a patron isn’t a one-way street. There are benefits to supporting this podcast — from getting a first look at my work-in-progress to exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

We regularly post video, audio outtakes, sneak peeks, and other exclusive content on our Patreon page — exclusively for our patrons! The podcast itself will remain free for all to enjoy, but we love offering special “goodies” to those who have joined our circle of support.

Most of all: Thank You!

Thank you so much— for your support, your prayers, for listening to our episodes, and most of all, simply for being someone who cares about silence and poetry and contemplation. Together, we are little by little helping to bring about a much needed spiritual revolution!

Yours in Silent Love,

Carl, Cassidy, and Kevin

David Cole: Celtic Mysticism and Silence (Episode 41)

David Cole and Luna

How does silence impact the rhythms of our lives — including the rhythm of prayer? How can we invite silence into our lives, in both structured and unstructured ways?

Joining us to explore questions like these — from the New Forest of England — is the award-winning author, teacher and spiritual guide David Cole.

Intentional silences is different to just finding yourself not saying anything, there’s a focus behind that, that intention that you’re deliberately being with God in that moment. — David Cole

David’s books include: The Mystic Path of Meditation: Beginning a Christ-Centered Journey, Celtic Prayers and Practices: An Inner Journey and Forty Days with the Celtic Saints: Devotional Readings for a Time of Preparation. His most recent books are Celtic Advent: 40 Days of Devotions to Christmas and Celtic Lent: 40 Days of Devotions to Easter

David is the founder of Waymark Ministries which creates opportunities for people to engage with the wisdom teachings of Christ and Christianity for our time, with a particular emphasis on Celtic spirituality and Christian mysticism. He is also Deputy Guardian for the Community of Aidan and Hilda, a dispersed, ecumenical Christian intentional community which draws its inspiration from the lives of the Celtic saints.

David and Luna in the New Forest

In this wide-ranging conversation, David shares how Celtic spirituality and an early mystical experience of Christ shaped his spiritual identity, and how the new monastic movement, the experience of working with a soul friend (anam chara), and long walks in the New Forest with Luna, his border collie companion, have all been gateways for his own encounter with silence.

On Lindisfarne, particularly during the summer, they can have eight to ten thousand people a day coming on to the island to visit, it gets hugely busy.  And it’s fascinating speaking to some of these travelers and visitors who have no spiritual context, but will tell you that they can feel something different in this place, they will say there’s something in this place that feels different. And obviously, for myself, that’s the Divine Presence… There is something there that even those who don’t believe can feel. — David Cole

To learn more about David Cole’s books and ministry, visit www.waymarkministries.com. To learn more about the Community of Aidan and Hilda, visit www.aidanandhilda.org.uk.

Some of the authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

Episode 41: Celtic Mysticism and Silence: A Conversation with David Cole
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Kevin Johnson, Cassidy Hall
Guest: David Cole
Date Recorded: November 5, 2018

David Cole with Fran & Carl McColman at the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford.

Christine Valters Paintner: Silence, Art, and Contemplation (Episode 40)

Christine Valters Paintner — an American expatriate living in the west of Ireland — joins us on Encoutering Silence to explore the intersections of silence, spirituality, contemplation, creativity, and living as a monk in the real world.

Author, poet, spiritual director, and Benedictine Oblate Christine Valters Paintner serves as the online Abbess at www.AbbeyoftheArts.com, a virtual monastery without walls. She is the author of twelve books on spirituality, contemplative practice, and creative expression, including: The Artist’s RuleThe Eyes of the HeartThe Wisdom of the Bodyand The Soul’s Slow Ripening. Next year Paraclete Press will publish her collection of poetry, Dreaming of Stones.

I started to realize how photography has a lot of violence in its language — so there’s capturing, shooting, taking… the way that we interact with photography is very much about seizing the movement in this kind of violent way. What if when we were with our camera, we looked at it as receiving a gift, rather than taking something? — Christine Valters Paintner

Drawing connections between her life experience as an introvert and her early spiritual formation shaped by Jesuit education and the wisdom of St. Benedict and St. Hildegard of Bingen, Christine shares how a silent retreat inspired her to find the silent, contemplative dimension of artistry, poetry, movement — as well as winter time as a powerful season for contemplative rest and unknowing which is its own contribution to the creative process.

I find that creative work is a lot about just giving ourselves permission to make mistakes, and to have fun, and to do things that we maybe haven’t done since we were a child, and there is a lot of freedom that comes with that. — Christine Valters Paintner

She reflects on how the experience of grieving, living with an autoimmune illness, and embracing our embodied selves, are some of the many portals through which the mystery of contemplative silence has invited her — and can invite all of us — into stillness and unknowing, and into finding ourselves in the present moment.

Christine offers a special treat at the end of our conversation — she reads a never-before-published poem of hers, “Saint Francis and the Grasshopper.”

I believe in the revolutionary power of stillness and spaciousness, and of practicing presence to life’s unfolding. I believe this commitment can change the world. — Christine Valters Paintner

Some of the authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

When I do spend that time in silence and solitude, I am so nourished by this sense of something so much more expansive and deep and generous, that that naturally spills over into how I want to live my life. — Christine Valters Paintner

Episode 40: Silence, Art, and Contemplation: A Conversation with Christine Valters Paintner
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Kevin Johnson, Cassidy Hall
Guest: Christine Valters Paintner
Date Recorded: October 29, 2018

Judith Valente: Silence, St. Benedict, and Writing (Episode 39)

Judith Valente is a poet, a journalist, a Benedictine oblate, and the author of books including Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith and How to Live: What the Rule of Saint Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community. Her books of poetry include Discovering Moons and The Art of Pausing: Meditations for the Overworked and Overwhelmed which she co-authored with Br. Paul Quenon OCSO and Michael Bever.

Silence has two sides to it… silence could be very burdensome… so silence also has to be balanced with community. Too much silence can be deafening, it can be stifling to a soul. — Judith Valente

Judith shares how a poetry workshop at a monastery led her to a meaningful encounter with silence at midlife — how a room “saturated with silence” introduced her to a maxim from St. Benedict: “At all times, cultivate silence” — thus inviting her to seek rest in solitude and stillness as a response to her busy (and exhausting) life.

All poems begin in silence, and the poems themselves are a part of the overall silence that we experience. — Judith Valente

She talks about her ancestral ties to Monte Cassino (where St. Benedict founded his last monastery), and how Benedictine spirituality helped to inspire her and her husband to become involved in organic farming. She goes on to reflect how nature, beauty, and poetry are all linked to her spiritual life. She tells some chaarming stories about her fellow poet, the Trappist monk Br. Paul Quenon (who Cassidy Hall interviewed for our episode 32), and about the bullfrogs and cicadas who “sing” to her in the silence of a cabin on her farm, where she often goes to write.

Our conversation meanders over the problems associated with social media, poets that Judith loves and a special reading of her poems, “Discovering Moons” and “Lunar Eclipse.”

Contemplation is a big fat word for gratitude. — Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO

Some of the authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

Poetry is for everyone… Poetry is truly a ‘soul friend.’ Poems will come back to us when we need to hear their message. They will come back to us at different points in our lives, poems that we’ve read, poems that we’ve heard; they are our soul friends.  — Judith Valente

Episode 39: Silence, St. Benedict and Writing: A Conversation with Judith Valente
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Guest: Judith Valente
Date Recorded: October 15, 2018

Helen Lees: Silence, Politics, and Education (Episode 38)

British writer and educator Dr. Helen E. Lees is an independent scholar, journalist and artist whose work explores topics such as alternative education, silence and sexuality. She is an associate research fellow at York St John University in England. Her books include Education Without Schools: Discovering Alternatives and Silence in Schools. Dr. Lees appears in the movie In Pursuit of Silence and a transcript of her interview appears in the book Notes on Silence.

Dr. Helen Lees. Screenshot from the film “In Pursuit of Silence.” Used by permission.

I’m not the first person and I won’t be the last person that comes to the conclusion that silence is equated with God, there is no difference. But the wonderful thing, the best thing of all about silence in this regard is it’s secular. We don’t need to call it this name or that name or locate it in a particular tradition or a particular culture. It doesn’t make you have to join something. — Dr. Helen E. Lees

Dr. Lees speaks of discovering silence as a child, and particularly as a young adult when first exploring the spiritual practice of meditation. In this interview she explores the intersection between silence, authenticity, grace, and creative expression. From learning to cherish silence as a young artist, to exploring the tension between the hunger for silence and the demands of a busy career, to musing on how silence comes to us in graced and graceful ways, to how silence continues to shape her work as a writer and an artist, Dr. Lees invites us into a profoundly meaningful exploration of how beautiful and necessary silence is for us all.

I’m not interested in silence being affiliated with any particular religious path, because for me it’s totally devoid of any need of characterization like that. — Dr. Helen E. Lees

Silence returns us to what is real. — Dr. Helen E. Lees

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Episode 38: Silence, Politics and Education: A Conversation with Helen E. Lees
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Guest: Dr. Helen E. Lees
Date Recorded: October 1, 2018

Allison M. Sullivan: Silence, Yoga, and Faith (Episode 37)

Allison M. Sullivan is a mom, wife, yoga teacher, author, podcaster, and spiritual companion. She is the author of Rock Paper Scissors: God’s Mighty Power, Jesus’s Covering Forgiveness, and the Snipping Refinement of the Holy Spirit. She is the host of the Sinner Saint Sister podcast. She and her family reside in Bryan, Texas, where she engages in ministry with college women.

We first connected with Allison through the Sick Pilgrim writers’ collective online, where we all grew admire her honesty, vulnerability, and faith. Allison and Cassidy made a pact to interview each other on their respective podcasts — so here the conversation begins!

I have this evolving definition of what silence is… before, all silence meant to me was just an absence of noise, you know, just kind of this literal silence — but now, as I seek it out as a discipline, whether it’s in an effort to know myself, or create, or get needed time as an introvert — it’s more about a search — and that can happen within noise, of course, but it’s a searching posture of my heart, that asks the question, “What do you have for me here?” so there’s an asking and receiving, or a searching and a finding, of silence. — Allison M. Sullivan

Allison shares her first discovery of silence (in the context of growing up with two “boisterous” parents) while encountering solitude in a swimming pool. She muses on the challenge of cultivating silence in the midst of a large family (routine and a prayer closet have been lifesavers), and silence has been integral to her experience as a Christian yoga instructor.

Allison shares how she has experienced silence both as a safe space and as a shield for avoidance, and shares how a bizarre moment while getting a root canal inspired her to self-care — and to explore her vocation as a writer. She approaches silence in terms like lingering and sabbath — and laments how such ways of being in time are so absent in so much of our culture.

I think it’s important to distinguish when silence can become avoidance — whether that’s avoiding a certain type of person, or that’s avoiding a certain type of emotion, silence can be avoidance. — Allison M. Sullivan

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

At the end of the podcast Carl speaks briefly about the trailer for Cassidy’s forthcoming movie, Day of a Stranger. Here it is:

I think about the word “linger” — our culture doesn’t allow for that, does it? We are constantly trying to achieve more, process more information, cross more things off the to-do list; but I think that linger is so connected to love. We cannot linger over that which we do not love, we cannot love that which we do not linger over. And when it comes to our bodies and maybe this is sensitive with women in particular, but I don’t know that we love our bodies and so there’s that desire to dissasociate. My desire with yoga and this full-bodied experience of life is to bring it all back into one being in a loving way, in a way that lingers and loves. — Allison M. Sullivan

Episode 37: Silence, Yoga and Faith: A Conversation with Allison M. Sullivan
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Guest: Allison M. Sullivan
Date Recorded: September 24, 2018

Kathleen Norris, Part Two: SIlence, Poetry, and Acedia (Episode 36)

In this episode we conclude our interview with poet and essayist Kathleen Norris. In part one of the interview, Kathleen and Cassidy explored topics such as poetry, creativity, silence (of course) and acedia — a spiritual malady that she wrote about movingly in her memoir Acedia and Me

This is part two of a two part interview. Click here to listen to part one.

Katherine Norris on Skype with Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman.

This week the conversation continues with reflection on the value of monastic spirituality, the question of whether religion can be a force for good in today’s world, how even monks can experience an overload of regulation, how toxic silence and self-censorship is a problem particularly for many women, and how a good writer moves beyond simple expression to caring for the reader.

Structuring a life around writing is as crazy as structuring a life around prayer. — Kathleen Norris

By drawing connections between poetry and prayer, or between liturgy and poetry, Kathleen Norris explores how a contemplative heart beats at the center of creativity as well as spirituality. She goes on to discuss the difficulties inherent in recording an audiobook, gives some pointers about reading her work, and offers a few thoughts on the challenge of using poetry while preaching.

At the end of the interview Carl and Kevin join Cassidy and Kathleen (via Skype), to ask a few final questions. She offers a particularly spiritual perspective on who her “silence heroes” are, and reflects on how one of the most important qualities for her as writer has been simple candor.

Liturgy itself is a poem — the daily liturgy of the monastery plus the eucharist, the mass, it really functions like a poem during the day — you know you’re going to be entering this realm again of the mystery and the poetry and all of that, and then you’re going to go and do your chores and do whatever else you’re doing, but there is a certain poetic quality to it, that is really refreshing, and I think that’s one of the big appeals to me — it was the poetry that drew me in. — Kathleen Norris

Katherine Norris and Cassidy Hall

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Episode 36: Silence, Poetry and Acedia: A Conversation with Kathleen Norris (Part Two)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Guest: Kathleen Norris
Date Recorded: September 17, 2018

Kathleen Norris, Part One: Silence, Poetry, and Acedia (Episode 35)

Kathleen Norris and Cassidy Hall

A self-described “evangelist for poetry,” Kathleen Norris explores the spiritual life in both intimate and historical ways, through her award-winning poetry and luminous works of literary nonfiction, including Dakota: A Spiritual GeographyThe Cloister Walk, and Acedia and Me. In addition to her distinguished literary career, she is a Presbyterian layperson and a Benedictine Oblate.

“There’s natural noise, like wind, that contributes to silence. It may be loud, in fact, but it’s not mechanical noise, it’s not human generated noise. It actually feels more like silence than not — like rain, or ocean waves, or wind in grass and trees. That has a silent quality to it.” — Kathleen Norris

This is part one of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part two.

Norris launches into her interview by recounting stories of introducing children to silence, moving on to muse about “the terror of the blank page” and how silence is not always a comfortable presence. She muses on how the structured life of a monastery has been a blessing to her both as a contemplative and as a writer; how her earliest encounters with silence were bound up with family dynamics; and how silence became her ally as a young poet in college.

“Silence sometimes shows you what you’re really suffering from… just to sit there and let the silence sink in, and often that’s when you discover what it is you’re really worried about, what you’re really suffering from, what your real concerns are, because when you’re busy in the world either with activity or a lot of verbal stuff going on, you’re ignoring some of those deeper things, and sitting in silence for a while, it will start to surface.” — Kathleen Norris

Her conversation with Cassidy (Carl and Kevin join in later in the conversation, and will appear in part two of this interview) covers a wide range, from musing on the relationship between silence and the sounds of nature, to the ways in which silence can touch on situations like depression, vulnerability, and acedia. She muses on how noisy cities are (she spends some of her time in Honolulu) and reflects on how people in our culture have created a “coccoon of noise” that seems to  arise out of an existential fear of silence.

“Acedia basically means not being able to care, even to the extent that you no longer care that you can’t care. It’s this really weird mixture of restlessness, boredom, despair… I agree with the desert monks that it is a major human emotion, the same as anger or greed or envy; it’s just been ignored.” — Kathleen Norris

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Kathleen Norris on Skype with Carl McColman and Kevin Johnson. Listen to part 2 of this interview to hear their conversation.

Episode 35: Silence, Poetry and Acedia: A Conversation with Kathleen Norris (Part One)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Guest: Kathleen Norris
Date Recorded: September 17, 2018

Parker J. Palmer, Part 2: On the Brink of Silence (Episode 34)

This week our conversation with Quaker activist, author, and educator Parker J. Palmer continues. Please listen to Part One (Episode 33) if you haven’t already done so.

In this week’s episode, we explore the question of how sometimes silence can be toxic (a “silencing” rather than the silence that frees), and how Quaker spirituality has informed Palmer’s relationship with silence.  He examines the difference between “adversarial listening” and “consensual decision-making” which embraces silence as a way to foster community and healthy relationships. Perhaps most moving of all is Palmer’s heartfelt story about who is “silence hero” is.

One of the great things about poetry, the reason it’s so appealing to people who are on a spiritual quest, is that there’s a lot of space and a lot of silence between the lines, and between the words… poetry and silence have a great relationship to each other. — Parker J. Palmer

Palmer’s deeply contemplative approach to silence, to education, to politics, and to vocation make his voice more important than ever as we seek to navigate the challenging issues of our time.

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Episode 34: On the Brink of Silence: A Conversation with Parker J. Palmer (Part Two)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Guest: Parker J. Palmer
Date Recorded: July 13, 2018

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