Many Kinds of Snow, Many Kinds of Silence

There are so many kinds of stillness, like many kinds of snow.

Listening to the wind buffet the awnings; appreciating the way the snow makes the air more illuminated (even at night).  I like the scent of evaporating snow–somewhere between moist and dry — and am glad that Illinois is having a taste of what winters are like further north (though the snow is nowhere near as high).  And I am aware of something vaguely uncomfortable that has nothing to do with the snowy atmosphere without, but the quality of silence I’m sensing at the moment.

I think of my brother’s family of six, of how rare silence is in their home — between two televisions on most of the time and the sounds of children’s chatter from room to room.  When I visit, silence comes only when I stay up reading after everyone has gone to bed, or arise early.  But there is a flow in their home, a flow of life and communion, and I am reminded — as I am when I host larger gatherings at my home — of what my life would be like if I had a large family, of the kind of joy that energizes like a current, and the satisfaction of a well-managed household.

And then I think of how when there is no one but I in my own home (though someone else is here half the week now), it is easy to listen to the sounds of the furnace, the birds, the wind, the cars going past — and feel sometimes the absence of human community, of any narrative for one’s life, of any connection to anything beyond the objects turning on and off or sitting perfectly still in the room.

It’s easy to see why some fear silence, because it can evoke a little death.  In the absence of conversation, of immediate feedback from other human beings, we can start to feel as if we don’t exist.  We aren’t mother, father, child, partner, lover, friend . . . we aren’t successful on the stage of anyone’s life, professionally or personally . . . we are brought back to the steady THERENESS of the world and its quite indifference to us.

There is another kind of silence in solitude, of course — the kind that awakens our sense of interconnectedness with all of creation, stirs insights in us that blow in on the breath of the Spirit, reveals that our heart walks across the landscape of God’s heart, and that God in turn dwells in all the peopled and unpeopled landscapes of our lives.

But I suspect we often come to know the radiant sort of silence when we’ve stayed put for a time with the impersonalizing, absent sort of silence.

Is this your experience?

Some love the snow and some fear it.  Some are dazzled by the play of light on it, or its many textures–dry, wet, fluffy, wispy, hard, clumpy.  Some resent and some delight in the exercise of shoveling it.  Some seem to want only green warm days.  I have never understood this, for hot days deplete me and I prefer a crisper cool day.  But even if I can’t fathom why more people don’t relish the heady challenges of snow, I can understand why human beings might skirt around the challenges of silence.

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4 thoughts on “Many Kinds of Snow, Many Kinds of Silence

  1. Thanks for your reflection, Amy. Yes, I also have mixed feelings about snow. I love to watch it especially in our chapel. I feels like one is in a snow globe being blanketed with God’s wonder, beauty and glory. On the other hand, I do not relish driving in it. It becomes “white-knuckle” driving, and tension is high. I, too, would miss the change of the seasons. There is something special about each one of them.

    Silence is a little like the snow. There are times when is comforting to sit in a cozy easy chair with a good book or even crocheting or just watching the snow come down. There is also the inexplicable wonder of solitude in which no words or actions are necessary. You feel like you are in the presence of God’s love caressing you gently. Then there are the times when it seems a void, although I think that is the time of germination of solitude. So it is like the dance of the snow – a rhythm that seems right and one that is a bit unsettling but always leading to a greater depth in one’s life.

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  2. Thank you so much, Amy, for these thoughtful ponderings about silence. I quoted you on my blog, if you would like to read: http://upwoods.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/silent-blog-please-read-quietly/

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  3. I can picture the snow globe effect of watching the snow in the monastery’s window-surrounded chapel! And, Sister Ruth, do you ever think silence or solitude can be destructive, as snow can be when we don’t encounter it rightly–when it blinds us, or has piled too high for us or our vehicles? Or the accompanying cold can freeze us? I think that is what struck me the day I wrote about snow: how the absence of human society can destroy us, if we’re not approaching it with a secure enough soul or with a secure enough sense of usual connection to human society.

    But clearly solitude is vital for any spiritual depth. So many prophets and other leaders spent time in the wilderness, away from human society, to be in a place not defined by human society as it existed at present. Solitude, like water as well as snow, can be life-giving or destructive, depending upon the nature of our encounter with it. And it’s interesting to ponder how much of the nature of our encounter with solitude is within our power to shape, and how much is divine gift.

    Kathy, I appreciate your including my thoughts in your blog–and your own many ponderings on the gift of quiet.

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  4. Yes, Amy, you are right. Solitude can be destructive, just like an avalanche. Solitude can be an escape from life, or one can go into it without a solid grounding. I believe that is why Benedict suggested that one can become a hermit only after living together in the monastery for some time. True solitude, I believe, will always lead us back into connection with people. We and others will then be richer for our encounter with silence and solitude.

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