Category Archives: Episodes

Jessica Mesman Griffith: The Silence of Missing Voices (Episode 23)

What is the relationship between silence, creativity, fear, doubt, death, and missing voices — especially in terms of art and literature?

To explore this provocative question, we turned to our mutual friend — and one of the most gifted and articulate writers of our time — Jessica Mesman Griffith.

It’s very difficult for me to be in any kind of silence.. I love being out in nature and not having the iPod. When I take my long walks every day, I don’t take my iPod, I don’t listen to music, I don’t have earbuds, but the sounds of nature are not the sounds of my own body. It’s the sounds of my own body I think that terrify me. — Jessica Mesman Griffith

Jessica Mesman Griffith is an award-winning essayist and memoirist who honestly and fearlessly explores the intersections between religion (especially Catholicism), art and creativity, mental health, and social justice.  She is the founder of the Sick Pilgrim blog (www.patheos.com/blogs/sickpilgrim), described as “a space for the spiritually sick, and their fellow travelers, to rest a while.” Her books include Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters (co-authored with Amy Andrews), A Book of Grace Filled Days: 2016, and Daily Inspiration for Women (co-authored with Ginny Kubitz Moyer, Vinita Hampton Wright, and Margaret Silf).

Jessica’s authenticity is revealed from the first minutes of our conversation, when she discusses how silence seemed unsettling to her as a child. Musing on the relationship between silence and the fear of death, or the link between happiness and conviviality, and even the anxiety that comes from the noises of her own body, she muses on how she has discovered different “types” of silence (the silence of nature seems different from the silence in a suburban home).

Good writing is having an ear… Having an ear for how something sounds on the page, for the rhythm of language… The best writers have an ear for where something falls flat or doesn’t sound true. — Jessica Mesman Griffith

The conversation goes on to explore the questions of the relationship between silence and creativity, privilege, and the body. Invoking poetry, horror movies, music, narrative nonfiction, we look at silence from many angles, acknowledging that the human experience of silence is messy and multivalent — pretty much like the human experience in general.

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

I think we’re certain that it [silence] means death and then we’re terrified that that’s what death is – that that’s all death is, the silent darkness. So in Christianity we revolt against that by making it as loud and hideously ugly apparently as we can, at all times… This is our ultimate fear–that there’s nothing. — Jessica Mesman Griffith

Goofing around in New York City. Left to Right: Cassidy Hall, Jessica Mesman Griffith, Fr. James Martin, Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman. Photo by Fran McColman.

Episode 23: The Silence of Missing Voices: A Conversation with Jessica Mesman Griffith
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Guest: Jessica Mesman Griffith
Date Recorded: May 18, 2018

Kurt Johnson: Silence, the Body, and Movement (Episode 22)

How is Silence related to the human body? To movement, exercise, and performance? To physical, as well as mental and spiritual, wellness?

Today we begin what we hope will be an ongoing conversation in the Encountering Silence world, exploring these and similar questions.

Kurt Johnson

We open this exploration thanks to Kurt Johnson joining in the conversation today. Kurt Johnson is a personal trainer and massage therapist who works with individuals, small groups and corporations, to help  people manage pain, lose weight, improve fitness, and simply live better through movement, training, and exercise. He co-owns the Core Fitness training studio in North Haven, CT, and has over twenty years of experience studying and practicing the art and science of physical movement — and helping others to achieve their goals and beyond for bodily wellness. On top  of it all, Kurt is an avid runner and also engages in endurance competitions.  He has entered and completed half-Iron Man and full Iron Man races.

What’s going on is you’re doing, doing, doing, doing, but we need to take a step back and “non-do,” and focus more on the quietness of your body, paying attention to those little things that are going on in your body, and finding out why these things are happening. — Kurt Johnson

If “personal trainer” evokes in your mind a young drill sergeant, fresh out of the Marines, who barks orders at his clients in a gym blaring with loud music and glaring neon lights — well, Kurt Johnson is not that person! Rather, his focus is on integrating physical wellness with mental and spiritual nurture — and so needless to say, he has some interesting things to say about the importance of silence in regard to physical health, fitness, and wellness. Kurt sees his ultimate mission to help people to find complete freedom in their movement of mind, body, and spirit, so they can become who they truly are.

Oh, and by the way, Kurt is Kevin’s brother. 😇

We begin our conversation by exploring why (and how) silence and physical wellness and performance go together, which includes looking at the paradox between performance-as-goal-attainment, and how silence invites us into a radical place without goals or achievements — a place Kurt calls “non-performance.”

My goal for people is to increase their energy levels. If I can get them energy, then they’re going to feel better  and it’s going to link them to what their ultimate goal is, their purpose—and that usually always circles right back around into deep silence. — Kurt Johnson

The conversation expands (pardon the pun) to include the importance of breathing as a foundational movement of the body. Kurt points out that we live in a culture that is so geared toward achievement and performance, that often many of us carry so much stress in our bodies that beneath our frenzied activity, often our bodies carry significant amounts of anxiety and pain. Thus, the path to wellness often lies not in more “performance,” but paradoxically in learning to let go of our addiction to striving and achievement.

A baby, when they’re breathing, it really is amazing to watch. What’s going on is they have full belly breaths, whereas when we get older we tend to be more in the chest, and this is where our anxiety and our stresses go.  — Kurt Johnson

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

I see the ultimate potential in every human being. I’ve always felt that way. I feel that people don’t give themselves enough credit. — Kurt Johnson

Some Links Worth Exploring:

Episode 22: Silence, the Body, and Movement: A Conversation with Kurt Johnson
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Guest: Kurt Johnson
Date Recorded: May 11, 2018

Encountering Silence in Our Busy Lives (Episode 21)

If you could take a snapshot of your relationship with silence today, what would it look like? Perhaps you will have just come back from visiting a city where tragedy has brought about a new quality of silence. Perhaps you are just clinging to a daily sitting practice in the midst of a very busy life. Or silence is your companion in a time of personal or professional transformation.

In this episode, we muse on what our relationship with silence looks like nowadays. Reflecting on our busy lives and how we try to maintain an intentional relationship with silence in the midst of the busy-ness, we muse on the paradox of how silence calls us back from the “mindlessness” of a life that is dulled by too much time in front of a computer screen, or too much time sitting at a desk — but as we enter into silence, we are taken to a different kind of “mindlessness,” a place of forgetting self-consciousness and letting go of ego-defined ways of thinking, seeing or being.

“If you go for a hike, which I do often to reduce stress and to recuperate and to be quiet and to enjoy the beauty, if I do that I start to notice there’s another level of consciousness that’s available to me, and that level of consciousness is tapped in through silence. … One of the things I’ve noticed is that silence is that shift in attention away from where it’s self-consciousness and all about my ego and my needs, to opening up to the wide world in front of me, and saying ‘I’m a player in this, I’m part of the trees, I’m part of the wind, I’m involved in this eco-system,’ and that I need to reconnect, that I’m not separate from the flow.” — Kevin Johnson

We round out our conversation by reflecting on some of the books we are currently reading, including poetry and even a couple of “guilty pleasure” books. Cassidy finishes our conversation with a lovely poem from the great Spanish mystics St. John of the Cross.

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Cassidy referred to the book Carl is currently editing. It’s called An Invitation to Celtic Wisdom which will be released in November.

Episode 21: Encountering Silence in Our Busy Lives
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Carl McColman, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: May 4, 2018

 

Jim Forest: Silence and Peacemaking (Episode 20)

As a peace activist, biographer, and lover of silence, author Jim Forest’s deep humility and sincere way of being reveal to us much about listening, truly seeing, and deeply caring for our fellow human beings.

“The day starts in silence… and silence normally — not always, but normally — opens the door to prayer, so prayer and silence are very connected; sometimes the prayer is silence.” — Jim Forest

Jim Forest, speaking at the Voices of Peace conference.

Describing himself as “an undergraduate student at Dorothy Day university” — and noting that he doesn’t think he will ever graduate! — Jim Forest tells the story of a truly remarkable life — the child of American communists growing up in the 1950s, he tried his hand in the U.S. Navy but soon dropped out from the service to immerse himself in the world of the Catholic Worker Movement and anti-war activism, that led him to (among other things) co-founding the Catholic Peace Fellowship after the “Spiritual Roots of Peacemaking” retreat convened by Thomas Merton in 1964.

“Like arrows, words point, but they are not the target.” — Jim Forest

Cassidy Hall recorded this conversation while participating in the “Voices of Peace” conference in Toronto in April 2018. Their gentle and intimate conversation explores art, philosophy, politics, the Eucharist, and spirituality — and how silence dances through all these dimensions of life.

Cassidy Hall and Jim Forest

With stories about legendary figures like peace activist A. J. Muste, Henri Nouwen, Thich Nhat Hanh, and (of course) Thomas Merton, this conversation provides deep and rich insight into a man who not only knew some of the great peace activists of the twentieth century, but who was indeed one of their number.

“Without silence, we don’t hear anything.” — Jim Forest

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Visit Jim and Nancy Forest’s website www.jimandnancyforest.com.

Episode 20: Silence and Peacemaking: A Conversation with Jim Forest
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Introduced by: Kevin Johnson
Guest: Jim Forest
Date Recorded: April 27, 2018

It’s cold in Toronto, even in the spring!

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM: Silence, Action, and Contemplation (Episode 19)

Richard Rohr talks with us in this episode about silence, spirituality, contemplation, action, and why discernment is essential for each of these areas of life.

One of the most popular and beloved of living authors writing about contemplation , Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque NM, and the dean of the online Living School. Through his popular books, audio recordings, conferences, and daily emails, this Franciscan priest has become a leading spokesperson for the recovery of contemplative spirituality in our time.

Kevin, Cassidy, and Carl skyping with Fr. Richard Rohr.

“I believe the primary orthopraxy — praxis — is silence. Primary: it precedes all other spiritual practices, all other spiritual disciplines. And of course we’re first of all talking — and I know you know what I’m going to say — about  interior silence. And that takes a while to achieve, because most of us, our mind fills up as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, with ideas, projects, agendas, arguments… and they’re all of a verbal character.” — Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

Rohr spoke with the Encountering Silence team from his hermitage in New Mexico, where he offered insight not only into his work as a writer and speaker, but also into the challenges we all face as we seek to integrate contemplation (including silence) into the demands of contemporary life. Indeed, as our conversation progressed it became clear that, as much as he values silence, Rohr felt strongly that silence should never be used as an escape from the demands of relationships, communities, or the struggle for justice — the “action” that must be partnered with “contemplation.”

Rohr has a keen understanding that silence is not something that not all people have easy access to — so, therefore, silence is a justice issue. He also points out that silence is not the same thing as contemplation (neither, for that matter, is being an introvert!) and that perhaps the most valuable gift that silence can give us is an invitation to move beyond the dualistic nature of language into a space that is restful, open, and simple — a space where, in the title of one of his most popular books, “Everything Belongs.”

“Silence is a way of knowing.” — Kevin Johnson

Richard Rohr is a warm and generous person and our conversation was quite intimate. He told us a remarkable story about encountering two of the most renowned Catholics of the twentieth century shortly after graduating from high school (spoiler alert: one of them was Thomas Merton!), and reflects in a truly beautiful and vulnerable about how it feels to be a man at 75 (we recorded just a few days after his birthday) where he finds grace in “having no agenda.”

“If people do get into contemplation or silence in the first half of life, it’s almost always by some encounter with limits. Let me call it that instead of suffering, because we’re so afraid of the word suffering. But without limits entering your life, you tend to define your religion in terms of spiritual ascending, rather than descending.” — Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

Among the topics we touch on in our wide-ranging conversation is the distinction between true and false silence — as well as true and false dimensions of activism — the importance of being in the “second half” of life for embracing the contemplative life, the recognition that contemplation can take different forms in different cultures, and the hope that Rohr finds working with younger adults in the context of his ministry.

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

Some of Richard Rohr’s other books include:

Episode 19: Silence, Action and Contemplation: A Conversation with Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Guest: Father Richard Rohr, OFM
Date Recorded: April 10, 2018

Silence and Poetry (Episode 18)

We love poetry — and we find that, of all literary forms, poetry seems to most quickly and assuredly bring the attentive reader to the threshold of silence.

“Poets all see silence as sacred ground,” notes Kevin, “because it’s from the silence the poems come.” Together we muse on how poetry puts us in touch with our bodies, our intuition, and how the relationship between poetry and silence is, perhaps, just the same as the relationship between silence and sound that forms the foundation of music.

Much like musicians use notes, poets are the composers of words. They pay such attention to the space between. More then we do in typical writing, typical everyday language, they heed the mystery, they listen to the offbeat, and they use it. They know how to harness it, they know how to hold it open-handed… it’s I would dare to say closer to silence then any other writing is. — Cassidy Hall

Because we are all “poetry geeks” pretty much just as much as we are “silence geeks,” we joke that trying to create a podcast about poetry should take us 200 hours (or more). So this week’s episode is just a check-in, a snapshot of where our journey with poetry has taken us at least for now.

From Mary Oliver’s earthy reflection written in response to a cancer diagnosis, to Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska’s playful consideration of how the experience of the mind or soul has an “embodied” or “natural” dimension, to the more ethereal or even transcendent perspective of Evelyn Underhill, the poems we consider in this episode dance between matter and spirit, between consciousness and mystery, between wonder and doubt and insight. And while none of these poems are specifically “about” silence, they all usher us into that place where word and silence kiss.

Silence is embodied, and yet silence is paradoxically also immaterial… To encounter silence implies materiality. — Carl McColman

Some of the poets, authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

Silence isn’t a fleeing from the world, it’s a fleeing to the world. It’s actually getting out of your ideas about the world, and actually showing up and being present in the world. — Kevin Johnson

Episode 18: Silence and Poetry
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: April 10, 2018

Notes on Silence (Episode 17)

This week we have our first “return” guest, as Patrick Shen joins us again to discuss the new book he co-wrote and co-edited with Cassidy Hall, Notes on Silence. Describing the book as an “entry point” into silence, Patrick and Cassidy share with Kevin and Carl how the book functions as a companion to their documentary film In Pursuit of Silence — and how it is simply a work of art in its own right.

Silence is always over-stated — and under-said. — Cassidy Hall

 

 

Notes on Silence features a selection of essays by both authors exploring silence, and their relationship to silence, from a variety of angles. The book also includes transcripts of interviews from a variety of persons who are featured in the film: theologians, psychologists, artists, educators, and others who have many interesting things to say about silence and the noise in our contemporary habitat. Since only a portion of each interview could be included in the film, these transcripts provide a wealth of information for anyone who wants to go deeper in his or her pursuit of silence.

A monk from New Mellerey Abbey, Father Alberic, said to me, ‘Silence is a place of infinite possibility.’ Silence is also a place of infinite language, because there is no proper language — there is no official way to box it in.” — Cassidy Hall

Notes on Silence also contains a generous selection of beautiful (and deeply contemplative photos) taken by both Cassidy and Patrick. As each of them shares thoughts on one of their favorite photos in the book, they give insight into how image as well as words can testify to the beauty of silence, and of our capacity for wonder at, and in, silence.

Alas, we cannot know for certain, the cosmos demands that we surrender to its majesty, and we must take our seat at the feet of doubt. — Patrick Shen

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Absolute silence would be a state of lifelessness. Our relationship with silence is always filtered through sound in some way, shape or form. — Carl McColman

Episode 17: Notes on Silence
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Guest: Patrick Shen
Date Recorded: March 29, 2018

 

Silence and Mysticism (Episode 16)

What role does silence play in mysticism?

That’s the question that launches our conversation this week. Episode 16 is inspired by the recent release of The Little Book of Christian Mysticism, by Carl McColman. But rather than just focus on the new book, we decided to broaden the conversation in this week’s episode to a more general reflection on how silence and mysticism belong together — and influence each other.

We launch our conversation by looking at the problems connected with merely trying to define the word “mysticism” (and related terms  like “experience” and “spirituality”). From there we explore the connection between mysticism, mystery and silence.

“The Christian of the future will be a mystic — which is to say, a Christian who’s comfortable with silence, who’s comfortable with mystery, who’s comfortable with paradox and ambiguity, but who moves into all of that for the sake of love: the love of the Divine, and the love of one another.” — Carl McColman

Our conversation considers how mysticism is misunderstood by both the academic world the world of “pop” spirituality, how mysticism can make a difference even in the context of the institutional crisis in the church today, and how mysticism can be meaningful to the ordinary person today — leading to the radical (but ancient and orthodox) teaching of deification or divinization — what Saint Peter called being “partakers of the Divine nature.”

In our conversation, we explore who are some of Carl’s favorite mystics, how the women mystics of the Middle Ages need to be acknowledged as courageous heroines of the faith, and which mystics ought to be declared doctors of the church.

“Experience is the beginning of mysticism… People will say ‘I am drawn to mysticism because I want an experiential faith.’ I think that’s great! But let that be your starting point, and not your ending point. If the experience of God is the beginning of mysticism, then God’s encounter with you is the end of mysticism.” — Carl McColman

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

“In the ancient church, contemplation was the highest form of rationality. It was when you actually let go of your ideas so that you could have new ideas, you could be open and you could rest and you could listen.” — Kevin Johnson

Episode 16: Silence and Mysticism
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Date Recorded: March 29, 2018

Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO: The Silence of a Trappist (Episode 15)

Meet Brother Elias Marechal — Trappist monk, author, contemplative, storyteller, and a man of deep, resplendent silence.

Silence is always there — from the time we’re born it’s there, because it’s in the image of God. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO

This episode — a conversation with Brother Elias — is our second Encountering Silence “Field Recording” in which one member of our team (in this case, Carl McColman) records a face-to-face interview with a person whose life is deeply engaged with silence.

Brother Elias Marechal, OCSO, with Carl McColman

Brother Elias is a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, at the edge of the Atlanta suburbs. Born in New Orleans, he is a lifelong spiritual seeker, who after a profound encounter with Divine Mystery while a freshman at Notre Dame, has devoted his life to meditation and to a spiritual practice both deeply rooted in Christian mysticism and yet profoundly embracing the wisdom of all the world’s contemplative paths.

He is the author of two books: Dancing Madly Backwards: A Journey Into God (Crossroad Publishing, 1982) and Tears of an Innocent God: Conversations on Silence, Kindness and Prayer (Paulist Press, 2015). Of the latter book, Thomas Keating says it is “valuable and full of wisdom drawn from the author’s remarkable experience of East and West.” And Cynthia Bourgeault notes, “If you’ve never experienced authentic Trappist sapiential writing before, you’re in for a treat!”

Tears of an Innocent God

Carl McColman has known Brother Elias since 2005, so their conversation carries the warm feel of two old friends. They sat down together at the Monastery guesthouse in November of 2017 to have a wide-ranging conversation about silence, writing, and prayer.

The image of God contains all of God’s qualities and characteristics. The first one is silence. Second, kindness; the third, compassion; then listening with deep respect even to someone with an opposite view, and so forth. And the whole idea is that you’re in this land of unlikeness and then you wake up in some way to the image of God. And you begin this journey, led by the Spirit, through the land of likeness in which, as you go along, all the various characteristics of God begin to unfold… in a simple, easy, and effortless way. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO

In the podcast Br. Elias discusses his first encounter with infused contemplation — at the grotto of Notre Dame University, when he was a freshman — and later discovering the complementary practice of acquired contemplation. He also reflects on a near death experience he experienced as a child, about his lifelong quest for purity of heart, on his experience of twenty-five years as a Trappist monk, how silence is an essential element in restoring the image and likeness of God within us, and much more.

He speaks about his early experience learning meditation and how the practice of meditation fostered his own relationship with silence — and how the Holy Spirit carries us through the unfolding of the image and likeness of God within us. He shares  his understanding of the role that breath plays in prayer — particularly the Jesus Prayer — which allows us to let go “into the abyss of the kindness and compassion of God.”

There is silence in heaven, because to communicate with one another, one “transfers” thoughts to another, and the other transfers thoughts to you — and this includes God. It’s very very interesting. So silence is all-pervading in the heavenly kingdom. — Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Episode 15: The Silence of a Trappist: A Conversation with Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO
Hosted by: Carl McColman
Introduced by: Cassidy Hall
Guest: Br. Elias Marechal, OCSO
Date Recorded: November 10, 2017

Lost in contemplation? Or just two introverts with their eyes closed?

 

Silence and Rhythm (Episode 14)

What is the relationship between silence and rhythm?

Silence as the offbeat: there is no rhythm without the silence. — Cassidy Hall

What are the ways that silence can create rhythm? How can silence enhance the notes of our day; how does silence strain out the noise in our life and directs the way we approach the everyday rhythms of our lives?

I always feel that poetry is like wild language, that it’s language that actually hears the birds, and the wind, and the rippling of the pond, and then is just able to imitate that in human speech… poetry doesn’t care if you notice the words, right? The poet is saying, the words are saying, “If you saw what I saw in my head, if my words were able to give you the vision, then we’re there!” — Kevin Johnson

Our conversation dances between the beat of the heart and the cadence of the lungs; from there we reflect on poets and artists and how both rhythm and silence shape their work; the relationship between silence, rhythm, breath, and prayer; how sometimes the rhythm “falls out” because of self-consciousness (as opposed to the “deeper silence” where we simply relax into a silence akin to forgetting or selfless-consciousness), and how even the difficult times and moments of life might be indicative of simply a bigger rhythm at play.

In between every beat of the heart is a moment of silence. — Carl McColman

And of course, we talk about poetry, and the social ramifications of silence (i.e., how silence subverts our culture’s aggressive materialism) —and much more!

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

For the podcast featuring our friend and co-conspirator Jessica Mesman Griffith, click here: Things Not Seen Podcast #1806: The Communion of Haints 

Episode 14: Silence and Rhythm
Hosted by: 
Kevin Johnson
With:
Cassidy Hall and Carl McColman
Date Recorded: March 5, 2018