Tag Archives: silence

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

 

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

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

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

Silence as Refuge (Episode 12)

When we embrace silence as an alternative to conflict, are we just choosing to escape? Or can silence be a refuge, a temporary or even permanent shelter from the challenges of life? How can we tell the difference between silence-as-refuge and silence-as-escape?

Recognizing the ache that we meet, the ache of the whole  world … that we meet in our silences, right? It reminds us that there’s space there for the whole world. — Cassidy Hall

Silence can be “toxic” when we  refuse to speak to someone in the interest of resolving conflict or managing differences; likewise, silence can be toxic if we enter into it as a way of escaping conflict, or avoiding essential conversations or tasks that require our (verbal) attention.

But an alternative to the toxic quality of silence-as-escape is today’s topic, silence-as-refuge: the recognition that even the most socially and politically engaged activist needs times of retreat, of quiet, of rejuvenation and reflection.

For me what’s important is that the silence circulates even among the words… the word “silence” here is actually pointing to something else: a shift of attention, a refocusing. — Kevin Johnson

Our wide-ranging conversation explores how monasteries can function as “silence refuges,” fostering an ability to love from a place of deep interiority; the relationship between silence and “perfection;” the classroom setting as a venue for silence as a pedagogical strategy; the relationship between loneliness and solitude (aloneness); and much more!

When we’re taking refuge from something, that thing that we’re taking refuge from doesn’t just go away. It’s learning to be patient with the messiness of life, or the brokenness of life, or the wounding of life. — Carl McColman

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

Silence as a refuge is necessary;
Silence as a refuge is listening;
Silence as a refuge is cleansing;
Silence as a refuge is the poetry of love.

Episode 12: Silence as Refuge
With: Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman
Date Recorded:
November 27, 2017

Valentines Day & Ash Wednesday — Silence & Paradox (Episode 10)

For this episode, we felt drawn to reflect on a couple of “liturgical paradoxes” coming up now and in April: that the Christian holy day of Ash Wednesday corresponds to Valentine’s Day; and that Easter Sunday falls on All Fools’ Day, April 1.

Valentine’s Day originated as a Christian memorial (for Saint Valentine), but in its secularized form it is a day for celebrating romantic love — complete with flowers, a nice dinner out, and of course, plenty of chocolate. But this flies in the face of the meaning and observance of Ash Wednesday — as the first day of the penitential season of Lent, Ash Wednesday is a solemn occasion for reflecting on our mortality (“remember that you are dust”), our sinfulness or woundedness, and — at least in some traditions — is a day for fasting — hardly conducive to indulging in sweets!

Of course, even without the religious overlay, Valentine’s Day can be paradoxical even on its own — as a day of sorrow for those who are lonely, or bereaved, or even navigating a relationship where love is absent.

How do we hold these paradoxes together? Could silence be a key to finding a way to honor both the pleasures of love and the invitation to self-forgetfulness?

“Paradox is paradoxical only to the linear, self-conscious mind,” says Maggie Ross in her recently published book Silence: A User’s Guide, Volume Two: Application. She goes on to consider an alternative to the limitations of the linear mind, which she calls “deep mind.” “Deep mind is inclusive, what ancient writers refer to as the place of unity. Its ways of thinking are holistic, even holographic.”

“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”  — attributed to Niels Bohr

Put another way: perhaps paradox is itself a gift, a reminder that there’s more to our minds (and our capacity to know and to understand) than the limitations imposed by language and linear thought. Perhaps when we try to make sense of how to hold a paradox like Valentine’s Day falling on Ash Wednesday gently and authentically, we are invited into a place of deeper and higher knowing — and the portal to that place is not logic or language but simply silence.

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

Another poem we didn’t mention in the podcast, but that deserves a shout out here, is Walter Brueggemann’s “Marked by Ashes” (from his book Prayers for a Privileged People). Also check out Thomas Merton’s thoughts on paradox in The Sign of Jonas

Like the prophet Jonas, whom God ordered to go to Nineveh, I found myself with an almost uncontrollable desire to go in the opposite direction. God pointed one way and all my “ideals” pointed in the other. It was when Jonas was traveling as fast as he could away from Nineveh, toward Tharsis, that he was thrown overboard, and swallowed by a whale who took him where God wanted him to go…But I feel that my own life is especially sealed with this great sign, which baptism and monastic profession and priestly ordination have burned into the roots of my being, because like Jonas himself I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox. — Thomas Merton

Episode 10: Silence & Paradox: Ash Wednesday & Valentine’s Day
Hosted by:
Cassidy Hall
With:
Kevin Johnson and Carl McColman
Date Recorded:
February 9, 2018

Header Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD: Howard Thurman and the Inner Authority of Silence (Episode 9)

It’s easy to see the connection between silence and spirituality — but how does silence support the quest for justice, for a world that moves beyond racism, sexism, or the other social barriers that divide us?

Anyone familiar with the wisdom and words of the great American preacher and writer, Howard Thurman, knows that the silence of contemplation and the silence that empowers the struggle for justice is, in fact, one silence.

God is always speaking, Spirit is always speaking to us. And we can only hear that in the silence. I think that’s a very difficult concept for people to understand because they think of hearing things as in words. But we can connect to things that are beyond words. — Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD

Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD

Our guest this week is Professor Lerita Coleman Brown, professor emerita of psychology at Agnes Scott College and self-described “devotee” of Howard Thurman. A natural contemplative who recognized the importance of silence while still a child, Professor Brown’s remarkable life as a distinguished scholar, heart and kidney transplant recipient, and spiritual director, has been shaped not only by her longstanding commitment to a interior growth and the love of quiet, but also by her own experience as woman of color. Like Thurman, she recognizes that silence and contemplation are not only essential practices for a meaningful spiritual life, but are also profound gifts to a truly effective and life-affirming struggle for nonviolent, sustainable social change.

Our conversation explores a wide range of silence-related topics, from Professor Brown’s childhood (encountering silence in the Santa Ana winds) to her first exploration of meditation in college, finding the value of silence in the midst of an academic career, the power of stillness even in the midst of a hospital stay, ultimately leading to her discovery of the towering genius of Howard Thurman, mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the most important (if under-appreciated) contemplatives of the twentieth century.

I think that there are so many opportunities for silence that we often don’t take because we’re in our heads chattering about why we are uncomfortable about being in the situation we’re in. — Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD

An important chapter of Dr. Brown’s story is her journey with heart disease which led to receiving a heart transplant in her early 40s. The process of her discernment to receive the transplant (along with a key career decision she had made years earlier) all point to how the power of silence literally saved her life.

Discovering Thurman while in formation as a spiritual director, Dr. Brown recognized one of the great (if under-appreciated) contemplatives of the twentieth century: grandson of a slave, child of the Jim Crow south, who went on to become a distinguished Baptist preacher, writer, speaker, and of course, inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and other key figures in the Civil Rights movement. But at the heart of Thurman’s genius was his deep and lasting commitment to silence, where he recognized we find eternity and, indeed, the presence of the living God.

But silence not only reveals God to us, but also reveals what Thurman calls the “inner authority” — that place within each of our hearts, where we discover who we are created to be, the strength and purpose that enables us to live the lives we are called to live — and, just possibly, to change the world in the meantime.

And I tell people all the time that ‘listen’ and ‘silent’ are the exact same letters just rearranged. So you cannot listen if you’re not silent, they’re just connected. — Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD

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

Find Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown online at her website, www.peaceforhearts.com.

To learn more about Howard Thurman (and to hear online audio files of his sermons), visit the website for the Howard and Sue Bailey Thurman Center at Boston University.

Professor Brown speaking on Howard Thurman at the 2017 Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Fran McColman.

Episode 9: Howard Thurman and the Inner Authority of Silence: A Conversation with Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson
Guest: Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD
Date Recorded: January 22, 2018

Silence in Conflict (Episode 8)

What role does silence play in human conflicts? This question recognizes that silence may have a positive role to play — in helping to prevent or resolve conflicts — but that it could also have a negative role to play, as one one or more parties to a conflict use silence as a “weapon” to prevent reconciliation.

“When silence is done ‘right,’ silence can disarm us. Emotionally, physically, disarm us. It strips us of our ego. It takes us to that sacred center and allows us to try to learn how to love.” — Cassidy Hall

This week Kevin, Cassidy and Carl reflect on how we have experienced silence in conflict, in both creative and challenging ways.

From the old activist slogan “Silence = Death” to Audre Lorde’s challenging declaration “your silence will not protect you,” we examine how conflict reveals the different ways that we think about, or talk about, or use silence, especially when engaged in a struggle with another person or group.

“If the silence is being used to punish… then that’s not really silence in the way I talk about encounter or beholding, that’s actually noise. Using silence as a word, as a ‘No’ to someone as opposed to the other silence which is an absolute ‘Yes.’”— Kevin Michael Johnson

Should there be two words for silence? Is the “silence” that dominates or obstructs reconciliation really a type of psychic or spiritual “noise”?

We look at how silence can sometimes provide a “buffer” in the midst of an escalating family conflict, or how extreme emotions seem to propel us to a place of silence — where, by grace, we might regain our center and thereby begin the process of reconciliation, or at least recognize that beneath the feelings of conflict (anger, and rage) might lurk even more unsettling feelings such as fear.

“Silence is a democratic material. It allows everybody to have equal platform and equal voice, because if nobody’s talking, nobody is dominating.” — Helen Lees

What is the relationship between silence and listening? Can silence invite us into a place where, separated by conflict, we can learn to be together again? If politics is about power, how does silence invite us into vulnerability? What is the relationship between silence and the stories we tell, to foster relationship and reconciliation? These, and other questions, shape our conversation and exploration in this episode.

“Silence has something really creative to offer into a conflict situation. Whether it’s creating the space to listen, creating the space to cool-down or calm down, creating the space where we can invite all parties into a vulnerability.” — Carl McColman

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

Episode 8: Silence in Conflict
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded: November 14, 2017

“If you do not understand my silence, you will not understand my words.” — Anonymous

Patrick Shen: Creating in Silence (Episode 7)

With this episode, Encountering Silence features our first conversation with a special guest — Patrick Shen, the director of the luminous and thought-provoking documentary film In Pursuit of Silence, which he describes as “a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence and the impact of noise on our lives.”

Incidentally, the three hosts of Encountering Silence first met each other through Maggie Ross as a result of her being interviewed for this film, so it’s fair to say that the film is the raison d’être for this podcast.

I’m just not that interested in making films anymore that add more to the noise. I’m interested in making films that point to this realm beyond the words, beyond the imagery. — Patrick Shen

Patrick shares with us how he came to be inspired to create his movie, the unlikely role that heavy metal music played in his early life (helping push him to an appreciation of silence!), to the “existential curiosity” that propelled his creativity as a filmmaker.

Our conversation explores the relationship between silence and death, the tension between the spirituality of the creative search and the work the creative process itself; how his relationship with silence is changing the way he works, and much more.

We all get this idea that silence is this magical sort of space, this magical material; and we want it to be infused in our daily life, we want it to be infused with every breath that we take and every moment of our day, and so I’ve become really fascinated with this idea of work evolving from that place, rather than the work imitating or being a representation of that engagement. — Patrick Shen

Patrick Shen’s award-winning films, including Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality, The Philosopher Kings, and La Source, have been screened at over a hundred and twenty film festivals across the globe and broadcast in over twenty-five territories. He was the recipient of the 2009 Emerging Cinematic Vision Award from Camden International Film Festival. Since 2012 Patrick has been lecturing and teaching filmmaking workshops all over the globe as a film envoy for the U.S. State Department and the USC School of Cinematic Arts for their American Film Showcase. His latest film In Pursuit of Silence premiered to sold-out audiences in November 2015 at the Copenhagen International Film Festival. A companion book to the film, Notes from Silence, will be released in February 2018.
Find Patrick Shen online at www.patrickshen.com or

 

A lot of us when we step into silence, at least initially, find our narratives or identity stripped away, and it’s a lot like a little death of sorts, and it’s terrifying. — Patrick Shen

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

Episode 7: Creating in Silence: A Conversation with Patrick Shen
Hosted by:
Cassidy Hall
With:
Carl McColman and Kevin Johnson
Guest: Patrick Shen
Date Recorded:
January 12, 2018

IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE Trailer from Cinema Guild on Vimeo.