Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 4, 2005
Embrace the power of silence
Search for stillness that lets you hear your sweet lord
By ANITA ALLSOPP
Special to the WCR
There is a gift in the power of silence. It is a gift that always comes as a surprise. In my journey into silence, the surprise has always been the loving presence and peace of God.
Years ago, at 18 years of age, I was living in a convent in Brussels, Belgium, and as part of Christian mission it was important to be doing something for the disadvantaged. I chose to volunteer helping out in an orphanage with children. The experience was one of devastation. The children looked worn, the building was bleak, and the room I had them in was large and empty.
A child's haunting eyes
I met the haunting stare of a small three-year-old boy, and I touched my own cavernous loneliness. I was the one that felt like the orphan. I couldn't go back a second time.
I remember going to the small chapel at the convent in turmoil with loneliness, defeat, and failure, wrestling with these terrible feelings. Suddenly, from within and around me, peace. All was well. All was silent. The turmoil had vanished. A Holy Presence surrounded me. Time stood still. I touched eternity.
In my thirties, camping with the family at Redstreak Campground in Radium, I had a similar experience. Each day for the week we camped, we walked a path through a redwood forest to the hot springs.
On this path was a small cove surrounded by huge ancient redwoods; it was dark, slightly to the side of the path, and contained a small bench.
I entered and sat. Once again, I was surprised by the gift of silence and presence. I found peace.
I returned many times to the special place during our week of camping. The peace that it provided filled a deep inner longing; it seemed to contain something of the essence of love and life and eternity.
Years later, in the turmoil of mid-life, I knew from a space deep within that this kind of silence would be needed for healing and insight. It was then that I began a series of retreats over many years, spending a week at a time in silence.
Listening to silence I heard running water in rivers, fountains and in the tides of the ocean. I would be bathed, cleansed, and washed many times and would come away from silence renewed. I often felt like Elijah who met God not in wind or fire, but in "the sound of sheer silence" (1 Kings 19:12-13).
I have planted my seed into every human person.
Here would be holy ground where I would have to take off my shoes, like Moses before the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-5). Here, like Moses I would hear God reveal his great "I Am" (Ex. 3: 14), and my soul's delight would be the attempt to express all that it contained. These are God's words to me:
"I AM" (silence)
"Listen to me. I am silence. I've existed since before the beginning of time. I was there in the beginning, before the Word became flesh, before the Word, launched into nothingness started molding creation. I still exist beyond and around creation.
"I am the silence of space, a mantle around the globe. I pervade every galaxy, every black hole. I stand between every note of music, in every pause. I have planted my seed into every human person. I am pre-verbal.
"I am the very essence of the womb, molding and creating. A newborn carries me in eyes, mouth, ears, nose, and skin before any first cry or word. You need me to hear me.
Find the treasure
"Listen to me. I have wrapped myself around all that is precious. Unwrap me. Find the treasure. I conceal as I reveal. I am vulnerable, and am broken by noise, at the same time as I am essential to any melody.
"You are my song. I am partner to your world. Together we dance."
Perhaps these are the words that God spoke to me in the silence of the chapel I sat in at 18, words that comforted me in my loneliness and defeat. They were words that I couldn't actually hear then, though they were there.
Now, 40 years later, I have these words: a gift in the power of silence.