The silence of sound

He was seven years old when he learned he was deaf. Born deaf, to Deaf parents, he never knew anything was different about him. His first language was Sign, and it was the only language he needed until it was time to go to school. The only problem was that the school was not within the town. When the town began, there was no need for a school of its own, and the citizens who lived there now all wanted as little taxation as possible. So they sent their children to the nearest town over to go to school.

Haverford was a small town, and a quarter it off it were deaf. Some families were entirely deaf, like how other families all had brown hair or green eyes. It was just the way it was. Some deaf couples had moved here, to join their lives with this unusual community.

You see, everyone here learned Sign from infancy on. It was a way for the babies to talk to their parents before they could use their voices. It was a way for everybody to communicate in crowded bars. It was a way to check if your friend wanted to have a hotdog or a hamburger from 30 yards away in a noisy football arena. It was a good language for everyone to know, whether they could hear or not. More languages meant more brain cells firing, more neurons developing.

It also made the town more welcoming for deaf people, except when it came to schooling. Strangely nobody really thought twice about it, how the school in the next town over separated the hearing kids from the deaf ones. While all classes were taught in English and Sign, the classes with the deaf were different, were lesser than.

It took an outsider to see how. Sometimes an outside perspective can make all the difference. Sometimes “normal” is just what you get used to. Just because you’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean that is the way it should be.

The deaf children were taught the same subjects, but not in the same way. There wasn’t the depth. The teachers (all hearing) felt they were just biding time, babysitting, not teaching. They had no expectations of their young charges, no hopes for their future. So they didn’t challenge them, didn’t prepare them for life outside of their home town.

In order to graduate every student had to successfully interview for a job, but the advisors did all the work. They would set up the interview, provide an interpreter, and arrange for a taxi. They didn’t show the students how to do any of those things. They might as well have told the students that they were babies and would never grow up. They had never tapped the potential of their students.
It was the outsider who began to question this, to say this was wrong. She had been raised by a deaf mother and hearing father, and knew first-hand how strong the deaf can be if appropriately encouraged. Flowers don’t bloom in gardens that don’t get sun or rain, after all – and people were just the same. She encouraged the town to build its own school, where the students could learn together, regardless of hearing ability. This became what saved the citizens, and knit them into a tighter community, one that was an oasis.

How had this started, this deaf town? The town was founded a century earlier by Benedictine monks, who had all taken a vow of silence. They had all learned Sign to communicate, both with each other and the few lay people they had hired to help them. Everyone had to know the language whether they were there for religious or secular reasons. This ensured the monks didn’t have to break their vow when they had to interact with the workers.

The town had slowly grown up around the monastery. More and more people came – not a lot, mind you, but enough.

But that was before the Soft Revolution, the one that slowly took over the society as a whole, over the course of several decades. It was so subtle, so sly, that people didn’t even realize it was happening.

How did it start? Was it with the “Christians” aligning themselves more with the righteous than with the poor? Was it when they started making church more like a social club than about social justice? Was it when “churches” started protesting at funerals of gay people? Perhaps the push to say “Merry Christmas” instead of the more inclusive and welcoming “happy holidays” was the final blow?

Christians were seen not only as “behind the times” but also as rigid, intolerant, and worst of all, unkind. People left the church, or never joined, because they felt it was irrelevant, or even infantile. “Freethinkers” cried against the pointlessness of the faithful – that they were sheep mindlessly following their master, who sadly was often wanted for tax evasion or sexual immorality.

The church had done it to itself. Nobody had closed the institutions like had occured in the French Revolution. No law had made it happen. But the effect was the same – church was irrelevant, in part because it was irreverent. People hadn’t left church. The church had left the people.

But this little town, this vestige of a silent religious community, remained. Everyone here still used Sign, regardless of whether they could hear or not. It became a tiny oasis in a world of too much noise.

Strangely, surprisingly, it became the center of a new form of faith, one where people listened to God in their hearts instead of from a “leader”. They began to put their faith in an invisible master instead of a visible one. They turned away from following people or institutions or rites or creeds, and started following the One who speaks to us all. This silent community became the new seed of hope in a world all too often distracted and divided.

Into the deep (part 4)

This layer was added this morning (3-29-16).

Additions –
bronze and gold gel pen
white chalk pen
decoupage glue
“abandoned coral” Distress stain
the broken tip of a key (found)
glitter gem

Top left

top right


bottom left (pleased to discover that the edge of the book page didn’t glue down well. I’ll add a red stamp here later)


bottom right (The glue will go shiny and translucent when dried. The key tip reminds me of Noah’s ark.)


Middle detail


I’m reminded of the photographic idea of dodge and burn. I’m highlighting certain areas and downplaying others. I try to make it look like it is all planned, but I’m making it up as I go along. It is a voyage of discovery.

This is kind of like when I painted the bathroom by myself. It took four hours. I was alone with my own thoughts all that time, and it was a little intense. This is also part of why I partly dislike how I exercise – water aerobics. I can’t listen to an audiobook while I do it, and I can’t take down notes of ideas I have. I’m stuck with myself, and that is hard sometimes. But I do it because it is always important. If you can’t stand being by yourself, then who would want to spend time with you? Friendships need to be constructed of two equal people who can stand on their own, and work even stronger together. If one or both lean on the other too much, it is harmful.

Quotes about silence and solitude

“But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.” – Alan Watts

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary seabird that opens its wings on the steak. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” – Virginia Woolf

“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; and when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound becomes diversion and a pastime.” – Kahlil Gibran

“All the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their chamber.” – Blaise Pascal

“You rest now. Rest for longer than you are used to resting. Make a stillness around you, a field of peace. Your best work, the best time of your life will grow out of this peace.” – Peter Heller

“There is a loneliness more precious than life. There is a freedom more precious than the world. Infinitely more precious than life and the world is that moment when one is alone with God.” – Rumi

“While I am looking for something large, bright, and unmistakably holy, God slips something small, dark, and apparently negligible in my pocket. How many other treasures have I walked right by because they did not meet my standards?” – Barbara Brown Taylor

“Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” – Rumi

“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days.” – Hafiz

“Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise.” – Richard Rohr

“Silence is precious; by keeping silence and knowing how to listen to God, the soul grows in wisdom and God teaches it what it cannot learn from men.” – Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew

Poem. Preparing to go on retreat.

I’m preparing for silence,
for stillness.
I’m preparing
to not prepare.
I’m readying myself
to be open to the idea
that God
has a better to-do list
than I could ever
make up.

My lists have
chores and groceries,
recycling and letters to write.
They are filled with
the minutia of life.

Get tire pressure checked.
Buy rocks for the garden.
Get cholesterol test results.

God’s list is much shorter.
Rest, and know
that I am.

God says
“Here’s a beautiful lunch I made
for you,
with My hands.”
God says
“Here’s a lovely flower
– come look at it.”
God says
“Let’s paint a picture
right now
with fingerpaints.”

God is the best child,
always wanting to show me
the latest treasure
or discovery.

I, the impatient,
harried parent,
have to put down
my purse,
my iPhone,
my canvas work bag
just to
pick them up
to look at them.

And maybe that is God’s plan.
Distract us
from ourselves
so we can
find ourselves.
Make us put
so God can
pick us up.

Smoking as a silencer

Smoking represents an inability to speak your truth. When you smoke, you are literally burning the back of your throat. You are also making it impossible to speak because your mouth is closed.

People smoke because they feel that they are not able to say how they feel. They feel that someone is working against them or there’s an injustice. They feel that they don’t have the power or the authority to speak up for themselves. So they silence themselves by smoking.

It is difficult to speak up for yourself. There’s a lot of anxiety and tension that comes from it. But just like with smoking you feel pain at first and then it feels better. When you smoke, the nicotine gets into your blood system and you start to feel more relaxed. But you don’t feel relaxed right off at first. The smoke tastes bad and the burning in the back of your throat is unpleasant. But eventually you start to feel calmer. The same is true with speaking your truth.

Silent retreat.

I love going on silent retreats. I love making a special time to be alone with God.

And then I hate it. I feel like I’ve gone on a long road trip and I’ve forgotten something. I feel like I’m four hours away from my hairdryer or the book I meant to bring.

No matter where you go, there you are.

And that is the problem. When you go on a silent retreat, there you are. You can’t get away from yourself. You can’t talk to other people to distract you from you. You can’t listen to their problems so you don’t think about your own.

You are stuck.

And that is where the magic happens. You have to learn to live with yourself, and love yourself. You have to learn that this crazy mixed up bag of humanity that is you is loved, by God, completely and totally, head over heels, no doubt about it, loved.

You have to relax into it, this love. It is pretty overwhelming. To know that you, yes you, are beloved. To know that God wants to talk with you and listen to you, directly, no intermediaries, no message takers. There is nothing between you and God.

Everything is stripped away, and all that is left is all that is needed.

Going on retreat is like going to a deserted island, but everything is taken care of. There’s a bed, and food, and things to read, and arts and crafts to work on, and a nice place to stroll.

There’s a whole lot of nothing, and that is everything.

We spend our days just jam packed with noise. We have so much noise all the time we can’t hear ourselves think.

So we certainly can’t hear God.

Sure, you can go on retreat in your house. You don’t have to go anywhere. You can’t get away from God. God is stuck on you closer than a Band-Aid.

But sometimes you need to make a point of getting away. Sometimes you have to leave home to get it. Home has too many distractions. Home is too easy. Sure, you can turn off the television and the computer and you can set aside this time, from here to there, that you will do nothing but listen to God.

Sometimes that works.

For when it doesn’t, you have to go on retreat, with other people, where you all do it together. All together you get on that boat and you head out into the sea that is God, and there is no life raft, or oars, or sail. You are adrift on that sea, with no way of knowing where you’ll end up.

Sounds scary, right?

It is. And it is beautiful, and wonderful, and amazing. And God’s got you the whole time.

Poem- being OK with silence

It is about being OK with silence.
With not having words.
With not knowing how to fix it.

With being rooted where you are.
And not worrying about where you are headed.

It’s about celebrating the brokenness
because that is how the Light will get in.

It’s about making the broken bit
the centerpiece.

It’s about making the leftovers
the main course.

It’s about not holding on,
not hoarding
not being a homeless dog gobbling up all the food
for fear
there won’t be more.

And it is about being OK even when I do all these things wrong.

It’s about knowing that I am loved regardless,
not in spite of my brokenness,


because of it.

Because of my brokenness
Jesus came
to let me know
I’m not broken
I’m human
And it’s OK.

Keeping the Sabbath at home.

Recipe for how to keep the Sabbath at home: intention, exercise, silence, and tea. You don’t have to go to a retreat to have the benefits of going to a retreat. You can have this at home.

For me, part of it is that I go to the YMCA first and exercise. I suspect any exercise would be good, anywhere. Going for a walk and admiring God’s creation even if it is just walking around your neighborhood is always good. Get some sunlight and fresh air, and strengthen the temple that is your body. As for me, I like going to the YMCA because it is one of the few public places where I can talk about God with like-minded people. I get to strengthen my faith as well as my body.

When I get home, I try to commit to using no electronic devices – no TV, computers, tablets, Kindle, smartphone – you get the picture. The idea is that you are only communicating with God, so silence is optimum.

Pick an amount of time that works for you. At least an hour is a good start.

Read holy scriptures. This is essential. It is your choice as to how you interpret that.

Having a candle burning while you read can be useful.

Also, pick some non-reading activity. You can garden, paint, bead, or draw for instance. Just don’t do anything that is a “have-to” or an assignment. Do stuff that kind of distracts you enough to let God get a word in edgewise.

God can speak to us through anything. The trick is to give God space to talk to us. We spend so much time talking to God, we forget to pause long enough to listen. It is just like talking to a friend. You have to make space for your friend to answer.

For me, it is mandatory to have tea and cookies at the end.

Give thanks to God for the time that you were able to spend, and for any answers to prayers that you received.

TMJ as a teacher.

I have TMJ problems. My jaw doesn’t line up properly. Overuse, and the ligaments in my neck hurt. The more I talk, the more pain I’m in. It isn’t a large pain. It isn’t terrible. But it is just annoying enough to keep me mindful.

I’ve become very conscious of everything I say. It is as if I have a bank account and I’m being careful of what I spend. Each sentence needs to be worthwhile.

I remember when a teacher in junior high had an assignment that we had to come up with a list of just twenty words. These were (hypothetically) the only words we would be allowed to say for the rest of our lives. This is something like that.

If it hurts to talk a lot, then you have to pick your words carefully or suffer the consequences. What do you have to say? What can be dropped?

This is totally in line with the Buddhist idea of right speech. Every word you say needs to be true, kind, and helpful. Is it necessary? Is it useful? Or is it mindless chatter, meant to fill up the silence? Is it gossip?

There is a great saying that “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” (Maurice Switzer)

There is a Ghandi quote as well that I’ve also heard attributed to the Quakers. “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”

We are afraid of silence. We fill our houses and our heads with noise. We have iPods and cell phones attached to our ears constantly. Every store has music playing. The TV blaring on, all the time. When was the last time you were silent for longer than 20 minutes, and not asleep?

This disorder has become my teacher.