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.
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:
- Shirley Hershey Showalter, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World
- Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose
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