Mary Margaret Funk, OSB: Silence Matters, Part One (Episode 52)

Mary Margaret Funk, OSB, is a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana. She entered this Benedictine community in 1961 and served as the prioress from 1985 to 1993. In 1994 Sister Meg became the Executive Director of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Board. She has been in formal dialogue with people of the Hindu, Zen Buddhist, Islamic, Confucian, and Taoist traditions.

Sr. Meg chats with Fran, Carl and Kevin via Skype.

She holds graduate degrees from Catholic University (1973) and Indiana University (1979). She is a graduate of Epiphany Certification Program of Formative Spirituality (2002). She received a grant from the Lilly Foundation to explore the history of Christian spirituality and its ongoing relevant to women religious today.

“Music is the closest thing there is to silence, actually; it’s a way to taste silence.” — Sister Mary Margaret Funk, OSB

Sr. Meg is the author of numerous books, including the “Matters Series” books on traditional Christian spirituality: Thoughts Matter: Discovering the Spiritual JourneyTools Matter: Beginning the Spiritual JourneyHumility Matters: Toward Purity of HeartLectio Matters: Before the Burning Bush, and Discernment Matters: Listening with the Ear of the Heart. Her other books include Renouncing Violence: Practice from the Monastic Tradition and Islam Is: An Experience of Dialogue and Devotion.

Our Lady of Grace Monastery

When we approached Sister Meg to invite her to join our conversation on silence, we were delighted to learn that her monastery is only a short drive from Cassidy’s new home in Indiana! So this episode was recorded by Cassidy in person at the music room of Our Lady of Grace Monastery. In part two of this interview, Kevin and Carl — and Carl’s wife, Fran — joined the conversation via Skype.

“Solitude gives you a house in which to be silent.” — Sister Mary Margaret Funk, OSB

Sr. Meg is a gifted teacher, and our conversation quickly turned into a lesson in spiritual history and practice. Using the themes of her books as an organizing principle, Sr. Meg skillfully explained the central role that silence plays to Benedictine spirituality — and indeed to Christian spirituality as a whole. And while her insights dove deep into her “home tradition” of Christian spirituality, her years of insight into interreligious dialogue added a richness and depth to her reflections on how Christians and persons of other faiths can learn from one another — and how honoring the integrity of their own traditions enhances interfaith dialogue.

Sr. Meg playing the recorder

As if all this weren’t enough, Sr. Meg is also an amateur musician, and played several tunes for us on her tenor and alto recorders! She now has the distinction of being our first guest to explore silence not only with her words, but with her music as well.

Today’s episode is part one of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part two.

“Everybody knows what violence is, but they don’t know what renouncing is.” — Sister Mary Margaret Funk

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

Episode 52: Silence Matters: A Conversation with Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, OSB (Part One)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Guest: Mary Margaret Funk, OSB
Date Recorded: February 5, 2019

Shirley Hershey Showalter: Simplicity and Silence, Part Two (Episode 51)

Today’s episode is part two of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part one.

Our conversation continues with Shirley Hershey Showalter, the author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

Singing is to a Mennonite what silence is to a Quaker. For me, singing is a way of bringing silence and voice together. — Shirley Hershey Showalter

She grew up “a barefoot girl” on a Mennonite farm near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where her ancestors tilled the soil for generations. Speaking of her childhood, she describes her earliest encounters with silence as embedded in the experience of the vast spaciousness of the farm. Her memoir explored the tension she experienced “in the silence of her own heart” between the traditional culture of the Mennonites and her desire to discover her own voice as a teenager and young woman in the 1960s — ultimately choosing to embrace her Mennonite identity, but very much on her own terms.

Being here in the Shenandoah Valley, looking out at the mountains, every morning it’s part of my spiritual practice to just sit in my red chair and look at the mountains. — Shirley Hershey Showalter

Shirley Hershey Showalter in Glendalough, Ireland

Our conversation in today’s episode begins with looking at the affinity between Anabaptist/Mennonite spirituality and Benedictine or monastic spirituality, including the spirituality of Celtic Christians. She shares how Irish mystic/poet John O’Donohue wrote eloquently of the contemplative nature of the mountains. She reveals why she came to call her memoir Blushand reveals who her silence heroes are (one living, one from history). She speaks about her most recent joy — encouraging people in their “final third of love” to find joy, jubilation, and a renewed sense of purpose.”

Find Shirley Hershey Showalter online at www.shirleyshowalter.com.

To learn more about Threshold Choirs, visit www.thresholdchoir.org.

At a Mennonite conference I heard someone say, “Mennonites try to take monasticism into the family.” — Shirley Hershey Showalter

Today’s episode is part two of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part one.

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

Episode 51: Simplicity and Silence: A Conversation with Shirley Hershey Showalter (Part Two)
Hosted by: Carl McColman
Guest: Shirley Hershey Showalter
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: January 28, 2019

Shirley Hershey Showalter: Simplicity and Silence, Part One (Episode 50)

What is the relationship between silence and simplicity? Silence and peace? Or, for that matter, how does silence relate to the importance of our voice — as human beings in general, but especially for writers or for people whose voices have traditionally bee marginalized, such as women or those who live in traditional rural settings?

These are some of the questions we explore with Shirley Hershey Showalter, the author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World

Jesus giving his life actually is a form of helping us to find peace within ourselves, and peace with the world, and peace with all other humans and creatures in the world. — Shirley Hershey Showalter

She grew up “a barefoot girl” on a Mennonite farm near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where her ancestors tilled the soil for generations. Speaking of her childhood, she describes her earliest encounters with silence as embedded in the experience of the vast spaciousness of the farm. Her memoir explored the tension she experienced “in the silence of her own heart” between the traditional culture of the Mennonites and her desire to discover her own voice as a teenager and young woman in the 1960s — ultimately choosing to embrace her Mennonite identity, but very much on her own terms.

I don’t dress differently from other people today, but I hope that I am nonconformed to the world — that I am able to withstand the temptations of the violence of the world — of frivolity, and noise. Those are the things that I try to extract from the  teachings about plainness that I grew up with. — Shirley Hershey Showalter

After being the first in her family to attend college, she joined the faculty of Goshen College, a Mennonite college in Indiana, eventually serving as that institution’s first woman president.

Shirley Hershey Showalter in Glendalough, Ireland

From there she became an executive with the Fetzer Institute. She now is engaged in what she calls her “encore vocation” of writing and helping others to celebrate what she calls jubilación — the art of aging joyfully.

Our conversation explored not only how silence informed both her faith and the simple joy of growing up on a traditional farm, but also how the “plain” culture of Anabaptist Christianity gave her an appreciation both of the beauty of silence and the power of words. She reflects on how the “plain” culture of the Mennonites — an effort to follow Christ by being nonconformed to the world — not only meant for her embracing the traditional Anabaptist commitment to peace, but also avoiding the noise of the world in which we live.

This is part one of a two part episode — to listen to part two, click here.

Find Shirley Hershey Showalter online at www.shirleyshowalter.com.

When peace is associated with silence at the center, then one becomes aware of the many people who don’t have the luxury of peace, or the luxury of silence. — Shirley Hershey Showalter

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

Episode 50: Simplicity and Silence: A Conversation with Shirley Hershey Showalter (Part One)
Hosted by: Carl McColman
Guest: Shirley Hershey Showalter
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: January 28, 2019

Celebrating Mary Oliver (Episode 49)

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” asks Mary Oliver in  her poem “The Summer Day.” On January 17, 2019, her many fans — including the co-hosts of this podcast — discovered just how real this question was, as we reeled from the news of Oliver’s death at the age of 83.

Even before the podcast was launched in late 2017, Mary Oliver was on our dream list of persons we would like to interview. The word on the street was that she rarely gave interviews, but we remained optimistic, periodically sending her requests in the hope that one day she would say yes.

Even as recently as our 2018 End of Year Episode, we confessed that Oliver was the one person we most wanted to interview. Less than three weeks after that episode was released, Oliver passed away due to lymphoma.

Well — we may not have fulfilled our dream of interviewing Mary Oliver, but we did the next best thing: in today’s episode we reflect together on our shared love for this most popular of contemporary poets — from Cassidy, who has loved Oliver’s work for years, to Carl, who began reading Oliver because of Cassidy’s and Kevin’s love for her work.

While poetry has become an increasingly important theme of this podcast, we remain devoted primarily to a conversation about silence, so naturally this episode includes some thoughts on the most mysterious silence of all: the silence of death.

The poems we mention on this episode include:

Among the many books we love by Mary Oliver:

Kevin also mentioned the Buddhist poet Jane Hirshfield, author of Nine Gates: Entering the MInd of Poetry.

Episode 49: Celebrating the Life and Poetry of Mary Oliver
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Carl McColman, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: January 21, 2019

 

Andō: Silence in the Forest, Part Two (Episode 48)

Today’s episode is part two of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part one.

“All words begin as silence,” proclaims Andō on her Patreon page.  Indeed, those five words provide an auspicious introduction to this enigmatic yet joyful contemplative Zen poet.

As a lay monastic, Andō has spent many years living a monastic life in the forest. In her own words, “Spending five years living quietly in the forest, I learnt the Zen of forest, mountain and river, studied the poetry of the wind.”

Above: Cassidy Hall, Andō. Below: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman.

She says “I’m passionate about the poetry of Zen, Ch’an and Daoist traditions, in particular, haiku, monoku, renku, free verse and fragments.” She is writing a haiku memoir and will publish her first two poetry collections this year. Active on social media and through her own Patreon page, she shares her poetry which is luminous with both silence and light.

Originally from England, she now makes her home in Portugal, where she spoke to us via Skype.

Our deeply contemplative conversation continues with more insight into Andō’s singular spiritual journey, how illness impacted her life, her deep love for the Christian mystical classic The Cloud of Unknowing, and much more.

“The truest poetry is where we’re not the poet, we’re the vehicle for the poetry.” — Andō

She is the creator of the Small Silences poetry course: “a contemplative poetry course for those seeking to make space for silence and poetry in their lives. Small silences are contemplative moments of awareness, attention, insight and clarity, recorded as brief poems.” To learn more or to register for this course, click here: www.ando.life/smallsilencescourse01

To support Andō  via Patreon, click here: www.patreon.com/theunsui

Andō suggested that we might list information about her Zen masters here, which we are happy to do:

My first Zen Master, Daizan, under whom I trained as a meditation and mindfulness teacher, and was lay ordained into the Rinzai Zen tradition and lineage of Shinzan Miyamae Rōshi. Julian Daizan Skinner Rōshi’s website is www.zenways.org. Julian Daizan Skinner is the author of Practical Zen: Meditation and Beyond and Practical Zen for Health, Wealth and Mindfulness.
My second Zen Master, Sokuzan, under whom I was lay ordained into the Sōtō Zen tradition and lineage of Kobun Chino Rōshi and Shunryu Suzuki Rōshi. Sokuzan’s website is www.sokukoji.org. Sokuzan is the author of A Meditation Primer.

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

Episode 48: Andō: Silence in the Forest, Part 2
Hosted by: Carl McColman
Guest: Andō
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: December 17, 2018

Another Way to Explore Silence — with this Reading List of 101 “Silence Books”

Hello friends!

If you’re like us, chances are you enjoy reading — and we hope you will enjoy the following list of over 100 books that address the importance of silence in our lives. As you look over the list, you’ll see it represents a variety of perspectives: some of these books are Christian, some Buddhist, some grounded in the arts, or social justice, or feminism. Some are collections of poetry; others are works of philosophy.

The one common thread to all of these books is silence.

Most of these books present an affirmative, appreciative understanding of silence. But more than one actually looks at the “dark” or “toxic” side of silence: how silence is used as a weapon against marginalized or oppressed persons.

Please explore this list; chances are, there will be something here that you’re not (yet) familiar with, but you’ll enjoy reading. All the book titles are linked to their page on Amazon, so you can click on the links and learn more about the books that interest you.

Finally, when you find a book that grabs you, please buy it after clicking on the link — these are affiliate links, meaning Amazon pays us a small commission for purchases made after clicking on them. It’s no extra charge to you — and it directly supports the podcast. So thank you!

Yours in the silence,

Carl, Cassidy & Kevin

P.S. These books represent a variety of spiritual, philosophical and political perspectives. We may not necessarily agree with everything you’ll find in these books, and including them in this list does not mean we endorse everything they say. We provide this list because all these books have a connection to silence, nothing more. Like a good bookstore in a free country, we include a variety of voices here, and we trust you, the reader, to discern carefully which author(s) and book(s) you want to read — and support — or, perhaps, argue with.

Andō: Silence in the Forest, Part 1 (Episode 47)

“All words begin as silence,” proclaims Andō on her Patreon page.  Indeed, those five words provide an auspicious introduction to this enigmatic yet joyful contemplative Zen poet.

As a lay monastic, Andō has spent many years living a monastic life in the forest. In her own words, “Spending five years living quietly in the forest, I learnt the Zen of forest, mountain and river, studied the poetry of the wind.”

Above: Cassidy Hall, Andō. Below: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman.

She says “I’m passionate about the poetry of Zen, Ch’an and Daoist traditions, in particular, haiku, monoku, renku, free verse and fragments.” She is writing a haiku memoir and will publish her first two poetry collections this year. Active on social media and through her own Patreon page, she shares her poetry which is luminous with both silence and light.

Originally from England, she now makes her home in Portugal, where she spoke to us via Skype.

Our deeply contemplative conversation explores her relationship with Zen, with poetry, how a long illness became her greatest teacher, and how the forest brought her both healing and a deeper initiation into the mysteries of silence. She tells of studying with masters like Mooji and Ganga Mira, and how she discovered her vocation as a poet and spiritual companion, through silence.

“The truest poetry is where we’re not the poet, we’re the vehicle for the poetry.” — Andō

She is the creator of the Small Silences poetry course: “a contemplative poetry course for those seeking to make space for silence and poetry in their lives. Small silences are contemplative moments of awareness, attention, insight and clarity, recorded as brief poems.” To learn more or to register for this course, click here: www.ando.life/smallsilencescourse01

To support Andō  via Patreon, click here: www.patreon.com/theunsui

“Quit trying. Quit trying not to try. Quit quitting.” — Zen saying

This is part one of a two part interview. Part Two will be released the week of January 21, 2019.

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

Episode 47: Andō: Silence in the Forest, Part 1
Hosted by: Carl McColman
Guest: Andō
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: December 17, 2018

Richard Rohr in Conversation with Cassidy Hall (Episode 46)

Richard Rohr sat down with Cassidy Hall in Chicago last month, at the conference “‘Disappear from View’? Thomas Merton, Fifty Years Later and Beyond” which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Merton’s death.

If I had to choose between music and silence, I’d always choose silence. — Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

In this informal chat, Fr. Richard and Cassidy reflect on why Merton remains so important a half century after his passing, along with insights into Fr. Richard’s sense of hope in our time (spoiler alert: he’s impressed with young people today), his thoughts on how Christianity in America has (and has not) been faithful to the teachings of Jesus over the past few decades, thoughts about his own work and legacy, and much more!

There’s so much creativity in the way we love people and the way we serve people. — Cassidy Hall

Listeners of this podcast will recall that we first spoke with Fr. Richard Rohr last spring — that conversation was released as Episode 19.

We’re all victims of our own culture. — Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

This is a field recording (made in the lobby of Fr. Richard’s hotel!) and so there’s plenty of background ambient noise — ironic, we know, for a podcast about silence! But we hope that listeners will appreciate this wonderful moment when Fr. Richard spoke with Cassidy in a truly relaxed and candid way.

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

Some of Richard Rohr’s other books include:

Episode 46: Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM in Conversation with Cassidy Hall in Chicago
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Guest: Father Richard Rohr, OFM
Date Recorded: December 7, 2018

 

Auld Lang Silence (Episode 45)

For our final episode of 2018 — the first full year of our podcast, which debuted on December 6, 2017 — the three co-hosts of Encountering Silence sat down for a brief chat in which we reflected on the year just past, and shared some hopes for the podcast in the year to come.

This time a year ago, we had only released four episodes and had yet to interview our first guest (who would be Patrick Shen, in episode 7). We were still trying to figure this whole podcasting thing out. Kevin had managed to get some grant money for the recording and mixing equipment, and we all split the costs of the website, the URL and the podcasting hosting fees. We were operating on a shoestring, driven by faith and our shared love for silence (and, as we were soon to discover, poetry).

This time a year ago we had no idea that we would soon be interviewing a wide array of truly interesting and insightful guests who spoke about silence from a variety of perspectives. (If you’re new to the podcast, here’s a partial list of the folks we’ve spoken to over the past year):

Over the course of the year, several themes emerged, some of which we were mindful of when we began the podcast, but others which arose out of the various conversations over the year. Some of those themes included these thoughts: Silence matters; silence is an “endangered species” in our hyper-connected, entertainment-drenched world; silence is essential not only for spiritual well-being but for mental and physical wellness also; silence is essential for creativity; different kinds of people embrace and encounter silence in different ways; not all “silences” are created equal, and not all expressions of silence are good — there is such a thing as “toxic” silence; and the list could go on.

After thirteen months, all three of the co-hosts are awed and humbled and amazed at the richness of the conversation, as well as the emerging web of new friendships and connections that we see on social media, as well as in “real life,” of people who are drawn to this podcast — and each other — by a shared recognition that silence matters.

So — now, where do we go from here?

Looking ahead, naturally we are eager to expand the conversation as we invite some new dialogue partners onto the podcast (and perhaps welcome a few of our previous guests back for new episodes). We are eager to explore more deeply both the social dimension of silence (how silence relates to religion, to art, to social justice, and to the problem of social and economic privilege) as well as the personal dimension of silence (how to be more silent in the middle of stress, during times of vulnerability or suffering, and in the midst of life’s ordinary chaos). We believe silence makes a difference, and — except for its toxic form, which we would argue is actually a betrayal of true silence) — that difference is universally positive, yielding physical, mental and spiritual benefits. So we also want to talk more about how to spread the “good news” of silence and help others to access silence in both personal and communal ways.

It’s amazing how such a quiet topic (pardon the pun) can yield such a rich and nuanced conversation. We feel like the conversation is just getting started. Please stay tuned — we value your companionship as we make this journey, deeper and deeper into the mystery of silence!

Finally, one last point to observe about both the year just ended and the year to come. As of this writing, 42 people have committed to support the podcast financially through a monthly pledge on Patreon (we’ve had several other donors make one-time contributions as well). All three of us find it’s awkward to ask for money, but podcasting is both a time-intensive task and a form of media based on free access — anyone can listen for free (and we like it that way), but for us to continue to investing the time it takes to research, record, produce and promote new episodes, we need the support of our listeners. Fortunately, Patreon makes it possible for listeners to offer a small monthly pledge — starting at just $1 a month — so please, if you haven’t done so already, make a pledge. Your support makes a real difference. Thank you.

Other important ways to support the podcast:

  • Tell your friends  about the podcast.
  • Share our social media posts.
  • Purchase books through our “Silence Store” where we receive a commission from Amazon sales.
  • Subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or your preferred channel.
  • Leave a review of the podcast on iTunes or your preferred channel.
  • Give us feedback — let us know that you’re listening, and tell us how we’re doing.
  • If you a praying person, then please pray for us.

Your support matters. We are truly grateful for you — for listening, for supporting our work, and most of all, for accompanying us on the path of silence. Thank you.

Some of the authors and resources mentioned in this episode:

Episode 45: Auld Lang Silence
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Date Recorded: 
December 20, 2018

 

 

Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO: Silence in Chicago (Episode 44)

We are so pleased to welcome Trappist monk and poet Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO, back to Encountering Silence. A while back, Cassidy Hall interviewed brother Paul at his home, Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky (you can listen to that episode by clicking here).

Br. Paul, out shopping with Cassidy

She ran into Br. Paul again recently while visiting Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, to participate in the conference “‘Disappear from View’? Thomas Merton, Fifty Years Later and Beyond” which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Merton’s death in Bangkok in 1968.

If you can breathe comfortably with yourself, you’re going to be breathing more comfortably with other people. If you’re not comfortable with yourself, how are you going to be comfortable with other people? — Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO

Judith Valente interviews Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO at the CTU Conference

They sat down for another chance to chat, and here is the recording of that conversation.

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Episode 32: Silence in Chicago: A Conversation with Paul Quenon, OCSO
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Introduced by: Kevin Johnson
Guest: Paul Quenon, OCSO
Date Recorded: December 7, 2018