There were two times today when I felt silence appear like a relaxed release of tight muscles, like a garment that fits just right.
The first was during lectio this morning, when I got caught in a pause after a few lines of reading. It was like entering a sabbath rest, slowing down from rushing about so much all week. I thought: I’d like to walk into a classroom with this kind of stillness, even as I’m getting all animated once class begins.
The second tasting of silence happened early this evening, because my friend Bill invited me to go along with him in giving the host to a few homebound persons. All three today were women, and each one received us warmly. The last is one of Bill’s favorite human beings in our town, a woman whose family has lived in the area since the 19th century. She is full of local knowledge, and Bill always gleans a little more from her after she’s received communion.
Here silence seemed part of the space that carried all dwelling in the two retirement homes we entered. Always a fan of shared common spaces that belong to everyone, I liked immediately the lobbies of both buildings, which feel more like parlors for waiting, talking, or reading in the company of others nearby. One entrance has a huge glass container of quite a few song birds, which residents could stop to hear sing. On each floor, there is a space that combines kitchen, dining room, and lounge areas–comfortably furnished. Art pieces in the hallways were interesting enough that one could stop and look at them more than once to take them in.
In the more intimate space of the small apartments of those we visited, I was struck by how there was no television or radio on in any of the rooms as we entered. Perhaps that is because Bill was expected. Or perhaps it is because the women we visited, who had little by way of belongings surrounding them, had tended to pare down their lives to something more like being present. The church bulletin that Bill brought seemed large when placed on a small table. I imagined being old enough to get out little, and finding myself with time to give full attention to that bulletin — and anything else that was brought into view in such an uncluttered space.
I have always had retirement home envy, perhaps because it can seem rather like a return to dorm life (and Bill said indeed it can be, along with all the desires and tensions that come with any group of people mingling together). But it’s also tied to the contemplative love of libraries and monasteries, I suppose . . . as well as to time away from any building, like going out to Little Mountain near my town as a teenager, once for a 36 hour stretch of time with two friends, all three of us alternating between silence that became like an atmosphere shared with all the buzzing insects and bird calls around us, and reading out loud together on a hammock (we read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick).
It’s a gift to be brought to slow down amid all the pushing and shoving and running around, within and without. I’m grateful that today I witnessed silence in prayer and in the presence of those to whom the communion host comes from the broader communion of saints. It’s a reminder that our work, our insecure or hard-won identities, all has meaning only within this sacred space of silence that is rich with all that is, that was, and will ever be.