Tag Archives: silence

Martin Laird: Silent Land, Luminous Ocean (Part Two)

Our conversation with contemplative author Martin Laird continues with this episode. To hear part one, click here.

“What I mean by ‘Contemplative’ is ultimately overcoming the illusion of separation of God, and that illusion is sustained and maintained by inner noise in our head. And everything about our culture keeps our attention riveted there.” — Martin Laird

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

“Life itself is too wild to be tamed by the social constructs that we try to shoehorn it into.” — Martin Laird

Episode 56: Silent Land, Luminous Ocean: A Conversation with Martin Laird (Part Two)
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Carl McColman
Guest: Fr. Martin Laird, OSA
Date Recorded: February 18, 2019

“In deepest silence the self is ‘unselfed’ of self… Silence ‘unothers’ the other.” — Martin Laird


Jane Brox: The Social History of Silence

If silence could tell us a story about itself, what would it say?

This could be the question that Jane Brox answers in her most recent book, Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements in Our Lives (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). Brox is the award-winning author of several acclaimed works of literary nonfiction, including Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light and Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm.

In her fascinating study, Brox explores how silence impacts people both as individuals and as communities, by considering how silence has shaped two of the most archetypal institutions in western society: the monastery and the penitentiary. But she also considers the ways in which silence has particularly impacted the lives of women — both inside and outside such institutions.

Silence has always been important to my life, partly because I’m a writer and to me, there’s never enough silence when I’m working. Not only when I’m working at the page, but before and afterwards — that’s the place in which the work grows. — Jane Brox

Brox offers us tremendous insight into how silence is critical to her process as a creative writer. Having first encountered silence in her childhood on a farm, she grew up to embrace the writer’s life, and discovering how essential silence has been to her ability to think — and create — in a comprehensive way.

She talks about having a long-standing appreciation for Thomas Merton, which led to her organizing her book around his story — and the story of an obscure nineteenth-century convict from America’s first penitentiary. But she also looks at how women have experienced silence in some very different ways from men’s experience of silence.

What emerged for Brox was a deepened appreciation for just how complex the human relationship to silence really is — that a simplistic distinction between “imposed silence” (in the penitentiary) and “chosen silence” (in the monastery) simply does not adequately reveal just how nuanced the social history of silence truly is.

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

Silence is an extreme place; and it’s total exposure. Even the most balanced person is tested there. That’s in part why people seek it, to see where they will go; that’s in party why people flee it, because it’s so terrifying. There’s no protection in the silence… There’s no place to  hide in silence. — Jane Brox

Episode 54: The Social History of Silence: A Conversation with Jane Brox
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Guest: Jane Brox
Date Recorded: February 4, 2019

Mary Margaret Funk, OSB: Silence Matters, Part Two (Episode 53)

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

Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, OSB continues her conversation with Cassidy, recorded at Sr. Meg’s monastery in Beech Grove, IN. Toward the end of the conversation, Kevin, Carl (and Carl’s wife, Fran) joined the conversation via Skype.

“In Mepkin Abbey we all have to drink our coffee together… you can’t take your coffee cup to your room…  the first day I resented it, I said ‘nobody messes with my coffee’… the second day, I just sat there and drank the coffee; the third day, I actually listened to the birds wake up, the third day I noticed who also was in the room; the fourth day I actually tasted silence, and I brought that back home with me.” — Mary Margaret Funk, OSB

She reflects on how Jesus represents a path from violence to healing, plays more music on her recorders, muses on the best practice for interreligious dialogue (“practice your own faith and understand others”), and leads Cassidy on an exercise for training attentiveness.

Kevin and Carl ask Sr. Meg additional questions about interspiritual practice, on cultivating an “ethos of silence” in the church, and how to best teach the practice of silence in our time — particularly the question of contemplative teaching online.

Sr. Meg rounds out her conversation with a wonderful description of “five cups of coffee” that illustrate her encounter with silence and the presence of God. Don’t miss it!

“If I could put what I believe about God in fewer than 200 words, it would be this: Jesus is the way for us to shift from violence to healing…” — Mary Margaret Funk, OSB

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

Episode 53: Silence Matters: A Conversation with Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, OSB (Part Two)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Special Guest: Fran McColman
Guest: Mary Margaret Funk, OSB
Date Recorded: February 5, 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


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

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

Paul Quenon, OCSO: Silence and Poetry at Gethsemani Abbey (Episode 32)

Poet, photographer, and memoirist Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO sat down to chat with Cassidy Hall this past July when she was visiting Gethsemani Abbey.

Author of several volumes of poetry including Unquiet Vigil: New and Selected Poems, Br. Paul is also the author of a newly published autobiography, In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir. His memoir is a delightful and charming story of monastic life not only as a forum for deep spiritual exploration, but also as the foundation for a life devoted to music, art, and especially poetry.

Cassidy and Brother Paul

Brother Paul entered monastic life in 1958, when he was only 17 years old — back before the reforms of the Second Vatical Council, when the life of a Trappist was even more austere than it is today. His novice master turned out to be Thomas Merton, who eventually became an inspiration to Brother Paul not only as a monk, but as a writer.

In their conversation, Cassidy and Brother Paul discuss his life story, his experience as a monk, as a writer, and as a lover of nature. He enthuses on his special love for the poet Emily Dickinson, and shares the poem of hers which convinced him that she was a mystic (#315). He also offers a ‘sneak peek’ of his current writing, sharing some poems he is currently writing. Through it all, in the heart of his rich and cultured life, silence has been his constant companion.

There is a kind of silence which comes from stilling the mind, and you can develop that capacity, how to not fight thoughts so much as set them aside… if you want to be free, free your mind… instead of fighting the thoughts you just stand above them like on a bridge and watch the water flow by… but then there is a kind of silence that descends upon you, and it’s like the presence… it happens on its own, and that’s really special. You may get that, or you may not get it… it’s not a matter of looking for it, because if you’re looking for it, than you’re thinking of something, you have an expectation and you’re dealing with your expectation. — Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

The opposite of faith is indifference. — Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO

Filmmaker Patrick Shen, Brother Paul, and Cassidy Hall on the porch of Thomas Merton’s hermitage, on the grounds of Gethsemani Abbey.

Episode 32: Silence and Poetry at Gethsemani Abbey: A Conversation with Paul Quenon, OCSO
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
Introduced by: Kevin Johnson
Guest: Paul Quenon, OCSO
Date Recorded: July 4, 2018

Silence in the Summertime (Episode 31)

It’s summertime! How do you find silence amidst the droning of cicadas or locusts? What does it mean to be silent during the electric crackle of a late afternoon thunderstorm? How do we maintain our commitment to silence when we’re juggling family vacations, back to school to-do lists, or even more lasting and significant life transitions? We have this myth that summer is a laid-back time, but often we find it carries its own intensity. Where do we find silence then?

In the middle of this change… the silence really stirs up a lot. So it helps me to find a balance, a rhythm, but it also doesn’t allow me to run away from the fear, or the joy, or anything else. It’s right there in my face. — Kevin Johnson

Cassidy shares a provocative quote from an essay by Mary Oliver in which she talks about how poetry needs to “rest in intensity,” and uses this as her metaphor for navigating a very busy summer — a summer which she describes as being like a poem.

Kevin finds his summer to be both joyful and yet poignant, as one of his daughters prepares to go away to college for the first time. And yet this has been a time for him to find a new connection to his own practice of silence, and how an embodied sense of silence has felt like a friend reassuring him that everything is okay.

Carl, meanwhile explores how his relationship with silence this summer has been supported by two endeavors beyond his daily meditation practice: taking yoga classes with his wife, and writing poetry… just for joy.

I’m trying to look at my summer as a poem… just keep moving forward, just keep plugging away, but finding those pauses that often become shorter in times like this, that often become just the gaze out the window, or just the long stare into the coffee cup. — Cassidy Hall

We finish this episode with each member of the team briefly recounting the books we’ve been reading — and even share some insight into the t-shirts we were wearing the day we recorded this episode!



The silence is always there. And the question is, to what extent are we listening to it, or are we listening to whatever else is going on? — Carl McColman

Some of the resources and authors mentioned in this episode:

Cassidy talks about fundraising for research to help fight the degenerative disease Friedreich’s Ataxia. To learn more about this disease and to contribute to the fight against it, visit the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance website, www.curefa.org.

And finally, here is a glimpse of some of the handpainted silk scarves created by Fran McColman. These aren’t for sale (yet) — but stay tuned!

Episode 31: Silence in the Summertime
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: August 9, 2018