Time & Silence & Epiphanies

The first days of the New Year of 2012 have conspired to create a philosophical wondering trailing me as I’ve gone about the rest of my life. The first three incidents occurred on New Year’s Day with an essay, “On Modern Time,” by Espen Hammer in the New York Times; the second was a travel article by Susan Gregory Thomas on her silent retreat time at a Jesuit center in Pennsylvania, and the third was the silent service we held at church that day.

One of the things I’ve been wondering about is how to create more quiet time in my life when nothing needed doing, when I could simply be. And what that would look like anyway. This morning, I wrote in my journal, “Too many little undone pieces rule my life.” Rewrites on a book; email correspondence; repairs on the house; catch up with farm business and home business; and just recently discovering that my mother, dead these past ten years, has left a trail of “unclaimed property” in the states she lived in, all because I read a newspaper article on unclaimed property in Kansas and wondered, hmmmmm. Wonder if any of my family….. and yes, my mother had left behind a breadcrumb trail through the years.

But it’s January and much as we’d like to move into a new year fresh and clean, much is left over from the old year to clean up and complete. We all have tasks undone.

Espen Hammer wrote that before the advent of the pocket watch in the 16th Century, time was measured by the light slowing growing and in the sounds of birds. That’s still how I wake in the summertime. In winter, I’m more inclined to be the old bear slowing rolling over in her fur for another nap.

Hammer goes on to say that modern society is really unimaginable without clocktime and however we’d like to slow things down, not be ruled by a clock, we aren’t at the same time willing to give up the conveniences of modern life. Anyone want to return to living in the Middle Ages? No shower; no weather stripping or double sealed windows? Lots of cow dung?? I doubt it no matter how seductive returning to an earlier time may seem.

Our lives are ruled by time. Even at the Jesuit retreat center, Susan Gregory Thomas promptly arrived at 1:15 p.m. for her appointment with the spiritual director. But a line near the end was telling: “I did, indeed, have everything I needed–if only I would stay quiet long enough to remember.” Ah. Yes. To Be Quiet. To Remember.

On New Year’s Day, as we were setting up for our church service, we discovered that my husband Cliff, who never forgets anything, forgot the recorded music we use for meditation, offertory, and communion. A fast (and chaotic) dash home? he wondered. No. Wait. Make the service a silent service. And we did; and it was beautiful.

It was interesting to see how the unaccustomed silence unbalanced everything. Our community, like each of us individually, is used to a certain pattern to things, to a certain timing, if you will. Changing the pattern of music, which is a transitional marker in our services, set everyone to wobbling a bit. Cliff’s homily, on reflection as the new year begins, was perfect.

And then, a week later, we came to Epiphany. The theologian, Richard Rohr, wrote, “An epiphany is not an idea…but a truly new experience…” We can do anything with ideas, but an epiphany causes us to have an experience and an experience “demands that the whole person be present and active.” In being present and active, we interact with other human beings rather than just thoughts.

So here’s my New Year’s wish for you: may your year be filled with balanced silences–not measured silences necessarily although “time” for meditation is useful–rather silent moments to collect yourself, to remember you have all you need, to rattle the usual patterns of your life, and to absorb the epiphanies that come, calling you into action.

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8 thoughts on “Time & Silence & Epiphanies

  1. well…you know how fidgety i am, always fixing doing making. and my luck hasn’t been so good lately. friday night i was admitted to the hospital with diverticulitis. dilaudid..2 shots the first night (only). no food, not a sip of water for 2 days. i didn’t get out of bed much. i slept and just sat there waiting quietly following orders. diana noticed it was the quietest she had ever seen me. it was like i had no desire, because desire not only didn’t serve me but did me harm. i gave up and gave in. forget what time is it, what day is it. i’m home now solid food in my future the day after tomorrow. when spirit comands it’s best to just go along. strange that quiet seems to be the resolution of the year of the dragon…go figure

  2. How wonderful that the “amazing dance” my bishops do in church was even more artful without music! And this Sunday, when you ‘changed up’ the order of events at communion, Miss Mae wondered if you just forgot for a minute. I winked and assured Mae that our pastors are so in sync with God that even errors are Divine.
    Now about that Time and clock thing….I actually wake from a sound sleep if my grandfather’s clock stops. Tick tock…just trust…tick tock.

    1. Thanks Valorie! You can tell Miss Mae that sometimes her pastors get physical nudges to do things differently and sometimes verbal nudges! This time, re: communion, I realized I was walking the circle and realized how, on Epiphany, the right thing was for me to remind each person individually that he/she was the light of the Christ. So I did. And you can tell her that, yes, much of the time when presiding, I “forget” myself. Maybe that’s one of the perks of the job!! Blessings to you all.

  3. When you wrote that Cliff forgot the meditation music, and you quickly settled on a silent service, I was reminded of the Taize community where both music and silence are an integral part of community worship. The simple Taize service, often used in the U.S., owes its origin to Brother Roger. Some years ago at a very difficult time in my life I was regularly attending a local Taize service and I remember one day when life suddenly seemed very meaningless to me, I became quite panicky and lost during the silent time. As I was coming unglued I began desperately praying, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Within a minute I felt the peace that passes all understanding and just as suddenly obtained life changing clarity. I thank God to this day for that silence.

    1. Wonderful story, Terry, thank you for telling it. I’m familiar with the Taize music although I’ve never been to a service. It must be quite wonderful. Our experience was somewhat the same in a way; when we found we had no music, I heard, “be silent” and told Cliff. He’s used to trusting the messages I get so that’s what we did. Silence does create a space for life-changing clarity.

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