And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire the sound of sheer silence. ~ 1 Kings 19:12
When Angel (our dog) and I step off the hard parking lot pavement onto the gently flowing sidewalk that wraps around Boyle Park, we walk into another world. The rising sun over the La Plata mountains casts its early warmth over the receding shadows from the towering cottonwood trees. We pass red robins feasting on their daily bread. They don’t seem to mind our presence. Two crows take flight and let out “caws” as they fly to the pond outside the park.
As Angel and I move beneath the canopy of trees within the unfolding drama of light and shadow, the street noise dims along with the pedestrian chatter. Stillness and silence take center stage in this small, unobtrusive sanctuary of peace. We walk in communal silence.
Cynthia Bourgeault reflects, “Silence is not absence, but presence. It is a something, not a nothing. We can lean into it, and it leans back. It meets us; it holds us up.”
I am still a stranger to silence and her wisdom, but I yearn for her every day. Is she part of our daily bread? Is silence the air we breathe?
When I get home from a long day, out of habit, I click on the remote and mindlessly surf through the channels. I don’t know what I’m looking for, so I never find it. “Our culture says noise is necessary. We prefer noise because it dulls our innate loneliness,” writes John Dear in Living Peace.
Can noise fill the vacant space in our hearts and souls? Does it endure and satisfy our longings? I turn the volume up on the TV, but I still cannot hear.
As I walk through the rows of trees at Boyle Park, I say to myself, “Nothing is here.” But when I stop and wait… they appear out of thin air. From the tops of the cottonwood trees, they drop down like fairies spreading magic dust over all of creation. They fly in “sheer silence” over the back of my shoulder, nearly grazing my ear. If I am very still, I can hear them whisper beneath the words. They seem to live in a world of silent grace amidst all our noise. Their tranquil winged presence calms the waters of my soul.
Over the past month, I have fallen in love with swallowtail butterflies. The rapid movement of their wings is a kaleidoscope of translucent color. American poet Thomas Wentworth Higgenson wrote of butterflies, “Thou spark of life that wavest wings of gold, thou songless wanderer mid the songful birds.”
Yet it is swallowtails’ quietness that draws me in close. One appears from the boughs of a tree, and another emerges from the river. They join in silent unity, circling one another in an ancient unchoreographed dance. They separate and one butterfly circles a tree and the other one lets the wind carry him/her to new heights and then they return to one another in graceful harmony. Someone said, “There is a certain kind of intimacy that is only possible in silence.”
Meister Eckhart said, “Silence is the language of God.” “Silence opens the door to peace, and to our Divine Maker,” says John Dear. How much time do we spend in silence each day?
In the Book of Kings, Elijah is fleeing for his life. He walks and runs faster and faster looking for God and peace. He’s frazzled and his heart is pounding, so he seeks refuge in a cave when a voice tells him that God will pass by. A “great wind” blows against the mountain, but God is not in the wind. An earthquake shakes the mountain, but God is not in the earthquake. Next, a fire consumes the mountain, but God is not in the fire. Finally, after the fire, there is “the sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12) and Elijah hears God.
When the world says go faster and make more noise, our Creator says be still, be silent. We hear God’s wisdom in a “light silent sound” (1 Kings 19:12, New American Bible). And John Dear says, “As we slow down interiorly, and become quiet, we enter a healing peace.”
By the Grace of God, are we willing to step out from our caves of fear? Can we close our eyes and breathe peace in and out and be open to whatever new insights emerge?
Swallowtails live short, full lives (around two months) but they remind us of the gift of silence. May we enter “sheer silence” and live into the grace and peace of God.
Blessings and peace,