Tag Archives: silence

Carrie Newcomer: Silence, Song, Blessing and Waiting (Part One)

What is the relationship between silence and music? This week’s guest, acclaimed folk musician and educator Carrie Newcomer, helps us to explore this provocative question.

“To do music you have to be comfortable with silence… a song without the pauses is just cacophony. You have to be able to breathe, and take a breath. Juxtaposition: the sound, and the moments of pause.” — Carrie Newcomer

Carrie Newcomer’s CDs include The Point of Arrival, The Beautiful Not Yet and Kindred Spirits. She has been described as a “prairie mystic” by the Boston Globe and one who “asks all the right questions” by Rolling Stone.

She regularly works with Parker J. Palmer in live programs, including Healing the Heart of Democracy: A Gathering of Spirits for the Common Good and What We Need is Here: Hope, Hard Times, and Human Possibility. Newcomer and Palmer also are actively collaborating on The Growing Edge, a website, podcast, and retreat. Three of Newcomer’s songs are included in Palmer’s most recent book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old.

Other special collaborations include presentations with neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor, author Rabbi Sandy Sasso, and environmental author Scott Russell Sanders.

“I’ve always been a seeker…. I was the little kid who asked the questions you weren’t supposed to ask in Sunday School.” — Carrie Newcomer

Carrie lives in the woods of southern Indiana with her husband and two shaggy dogs. Find her online at www.carrienewcomer.com. Visit The Growing Edge at www.newcomerpalmer.com.

“What I discovered is that you never see the world or anyone or anything the same once you’ve blessed it. Once you’ve looked at it that way, it’s hard to look at it as anything else anymore.” — Carrie Newcomer

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

The song “Holy as a Day is Spent” is from the album The Gathering of Spirits. The song “The Beautiful Not Yet” is the title song of the album The Beautiful Not Yet. The song “Learning to Sit Without Knowing” is on the album The Point of Arrival.

“I live in southern Indiana; something really good happened to my writing when I gave myself permission to sound like a Hoosier! What I mean by that is that I gave myself permission to sound like the person I am. I’m so midwestern — I am the lady that brings the casserole when someone’s sick, you know, and I’m just really comfortable with that… my truest voice, my most powerful voice would always be my most authentic voice, my most connected voice.” — Carrie Newcomer

Episode 64: Silence, Song, Blessing and Waiting: A Conversation with Carrie Newcomer (Part One)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Carl McColman, Kevin Johnson
Guest: Carrie Newcomer
Date Recorded: May 9, 2019

James Finley: A Conversation on the Spirituality of Silence (Part Two)

In today’s episode, the hosts of Encountering Silence speak with contemplative teacher James Finley, following his reflection on the spirituality of silence which we released last week as episode #62. If you have not yet listened to episode 62, we encourage you to do so before listening to this episode — click here to listen to it.

“I don’t know how to listen. I think I’m afraid to listen. Because listening implies an act of trust. When I get quiet, the voices of pain come up inside of me and drown me out. Thomas Merton said, ‘We live in a world that has forgotten how to listen.’” — James Finley

To lead us into his reflections on silence, James offers different ways of understanding silence that he first learned from a Jesuit priest/Zen sensei; then takes us through a thoughtful commentary on the ancient monastic practice of lectio divina. He reflects on the importance of listening — both in the spiritual life as well as in ordinary human wellness.

If you’d like to hear James Finley’s first episode with Encountering Silence, follow this link: Silence and Vulnerability.

“Everything said in this monastery should come out of silence, and its fruit should be to deepen the silence… We should never forget that all of  our noise comes out of silence and is very quickly returning to it.” — Thomas Merton, as quoted by James Finley

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

“How do we contemplatively listen to the evening news? How can I be contemplatively present to the complexities and challenges of the real world?”  — James Finley

Episode 63: A Conversation on the Spirituality of Silence: with James Finley
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Kevin Johnson, Carl McColman
Guest: James Finley
Date Recorded: April 18, 2019

James Finley: Reflections on the Spirituality of Silence (Part One)

Contemplative author, teacher, retreat leader, and psychologist James Finley returns to the Encountering Silence podcast this week. At James’s suggestion, when we recorded this episode we began by giving him the opportunity to share his own reflections on the spirituality of silence. After he finished this presentation, we engaged in a time of shared dialogue in response to his reflections. This week’s episode consists of James Finley’s reflections; next week’s episode includes our dialogue in response to his talk. Click here to listen to part two.

“The poet cannot make the poem happen, but the poet can assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to the gift of the poem… lovers cannot force the oceanic oneness, but can assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to the gift of that.” — James Finley

To lead us into his reflections on silence, James offers different ways of understanding silence that he first learned from a Jesuit priest/Zen sensei; then takes us through a thoughtful commentary on the ancient monastic practice of lectio divina. He reflects on the importance of listening — both in the spiritual life as well as in ordinary human wellness.

If you’d like to hear James Finley’s first episode with Encountering Silence, follow this link: Silence and Vulnerability.

“Can I become so silent that I can hear God speaking me into being, all things into being, the divinity or the holiness, the virginal newness of all things?” — James Finley

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

“The mystic isn’t someone who says ‘listen to what I’ve experienced,’ the mystic says ‘look what love’s done to me.'”  — James Finley

Episode 62: Reflections on the Spirituality of Silence: A Talk by James Finley (Part One)
Hosted by: Cassidy Hall
With: Carl McColman, Kevin Johnson
Guest: James Finley
Date Recorded: April 18, 2019

“Our listening is an echo of God’s eternal listening to us. We might say poetically, that God says to us, ‘I created you to have someone to listen to, because I just love it when you talk to me like this. And my listening, I created in my heart an echo of my eternal listening to you, so that each unto each, the listening and the word, unites in a kind of union.” — James Finley

Cynthia Bourgeault: The Heart of Silence (Part Two)

Cynthia Bourgeault continues her conversation with the Encountering Silence team, offering insight into silence as a deeper way of knowing, contemplative Christianity as a unique spiritual path, and centering prayer as a singular practice of deep meditation.

This is part two of a two-part interview. Click here to listen to part one.

“There is no ‘toxic’ silence, because in real silence there is a power of presence… when you enter silence, you are never alone, you enter a luminous imaginal stream of help and reality at a higher order of being.” — Cynthia Bourgeault

Encountering Silence talks to Cynthia Bourgeault

“What has really capped and is a cancer in Christian spirituality nowadays… is the anger… the only antidote to toxic anger lies at the level of the unitive heart.” — Cynthia Bourgeault

She offers us a new way of thinking about what we have, in the past, referred to as “toxic silence” on this podcast. “There is no toxic silence,” she declares, going on to draw a helpful distinction between true silence and what she describes as “a destroying of the voice.” She also offers insight into what she sees as the important tasks facing our time as we seek to embrace new “artforms” of silence, as alternatives to some of the sexist, authoritarian, or obsolete ways in which silence has been practiced — or marginalized — in the past.

Her thoughts on the challenges facing Christians today — particularly the temptation to give in to anger — seem particularly timely, not only for contemplatives but for all who seek to integrate spirituality with the demands of everyday life. Instead of anger and panic, she invites us to stand present, and to remain present with whatever arises, in fidelity to “the highest benchmark of love.”

“The highest benchmark of love, courtesy, generosity and beauty that is put into the world will never vanish from the world. And when it’s time, it will restore itself instantly.” — Cynthia Bourgeault

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

Episode 59: Encountering the Heart of Silence: A Conversation with Cynthia Bourgeault (Part Two)
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Guest: The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, PhD
Date Recorded: February 25, 2019

“Silence provides the conditions for a radical inner honestly… silence is a pathway for the complete transformation of consciousness.” — Cynthia Bourgeault

Cynthia Bourgeault: The Heart of Silence (Part One)

Cynthia Bourgeault has embraced silence and the contemplative life from a variety of perspectives: as a child in Quaker schools, as an Episcopal priest, as a student of the Gurdjieff “Fourth Way” and of centering prayer working with Fr. Thomas Keating, and now as a teacher both in her own Wisdom Schools and as part of the Living School. She is also the author of numerous books and a widely sought-after speaker and retreat leader. Joining us via Skype from Tucson shortly before she led a retreat, she offers a wide-ranging, insightful conversation on topics ranging from mysticism to inner transformation to the practical ways to develop contemplative culture in an ordinary neighborhood church — and why the local parish may not be the ideal environment for fostering deep interior work.

This is part one of a two-part interview.

Encountering Silence talks to Cynthia Bourgeault

When people gather in silence, a deeper kind of  collective, synergistic, numinous knowing unfolds. And that’s the only knowing that’s worth a damn, particularly when you’re working with the infinite. — Cynthia Bourgeault

Cynthia shares how her love for silence originated with her early education in Quaker schools, where she recognized silence as a “liturgical expression and mode of divine communion.” There she discovered silence not merely as the absence of noise, but as a sacred container of presence.  For her, after a long meandering journey from Christian Science to Episcopal ordination, she became (in her words) a “Trappist junkie” as she began to study centering prayer with Fr. Thomas Keating, which for her meant a coming home to the silence she had learned to love as a child.

You can’t do infinite truth in a dialogical, debating mode. — Cynthia Bourgeault

She offers keen insight into the dynamic interplay not only between silence and religion, but also silence as a medium by which we can experience inner transformation — a rewiring of our inner “operating system” as we move from the dualistic consciousness that is encoded in our language to the radical nonduality that only contemplative silence can reveal. With insights into the relationship between silence and philosophy, silence and psychology (including the ways in which western psychology misunderstands silence), and how monastic practices have encoded rich tools for using silence as a way to access nondual seeing, Bourgeault offers a rich and compelling statement for how silence is literally crucial for human growth, development, wellness, and knowing.

Centering Prayer, in complete alignment with the radically surrendered heart of Christ, offers Christians a way to jump into the deep luminous river of silence, and to know in a different way… it’s a 100% Christian experience of the deeper waters of silence.” — Cynthia Bourgeault

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

Silence for me is like the air I breathe; it’s not a place I go to, it’s not a thing to be worshiped in and of itself; it’s a pathway in to something that emerges through it and in it. — Cynthia Bourgeault

Episode 58: Encountering the Heart of Silence: A Conversation with Cynthia Bourgeault (Part One)
Hosted by: Carl McColman
With: Cassidy Hall, Kevin Johnson
Guest: The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, PhD
Date Recorded: February 25, 2019

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