Encountering Silence in Childhood (Episode 1)

What do you remember about encountering silence in your childhood?

In this episode we explore our first memories of “meeting” silence in childhood, moments in time where, whether in solitude or with others, whether near or far from home, whether shaped by emotional confusion or a sense of simply being present, something graced and mysterious intruded upon our awareness and brought us face to face, not only with the beauty of silence, but also with the mystery of our own deepest and truest selves.

From a lakeside in Virginia, to a Connecticut playground, to a prairie in Iowa, each of our memories involves being out-of-doors. And each of us struggles to put into words what ultimately seems to remain elusive, beyond what language can contain.

I all of a sudden felt extremely safe, completely at home, and there was a sense of I was much bigger than my body, that like somehow I was more than what I thought I was, and… I guess the word is ‘presence,’ a sense of that I just felt very — that there was something, there was more there than me.
— Kevin Johnson

As our conversation weaves in and around our shared, remembered moments of encounter, we talk about what it means to be present in our bodies, a sense of timelessness or eternity that sometimes seems to accompany the encounter with silence, and the dance of deep feeling, “not-knowing,” and longing that shaped our most profound moments of silence — even at a very early age.

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

Margery (aka “Carl’s cat”)

Kevin Johnson is a university professor, writer, speaker, and retreat leader based in Connecticut.

Cassidy Hall is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

Carl McColman is an author, catechist, and retreat leader based in Atlanta.

Episode 1: Encountering Silence in Childhood
Hosted by:
Cassidy Hall
Carl McColman and Kevin Johnson
Date Recorded:
October 2, 2017

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Carl McColman
Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.


  1. First Time Listener: Great podcast, folks. I’m glad I hung in there as the podcast developed its theme. Really liked the E.E. Cummings part, but not just that–many more germane comments as well. In fact, I am sure I will listen to this very same episode a few more times! Best of all good things to you each of you (even in the loud, not so good within the silent, really good!).

    At an isolated convent in the Swiss Alps, three nuns lived under a vow of absolute strict silence that could be broken only once a year on the first day of August at 1:00 p.m., with one brief comment, by only one nun, each taking her turn in order of seniority from youngest to oldest. During one particular August 1st, the clock struck one as the nuns were eating lunch. The youngest nun said, “This vegetable soup is terrible.” A year passed, and as the clock struck one on August 1st, the nuns were eating the same type of vegetable soup. The next oldest nun, taking her turn, said, ”I don’t think it’s so bad.” The following year after that, on August 1st at 1 p.m., the third and oldest nun said, “Would you two please stop bickering!”

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