life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


One of the things I worried about when I was getting ready to go to Mount Calvary last week (see previous two posts), was their practice of grand silence.

Grand silence is a monastic tradition which includes significant portions of the day/night where the whole community, visitors included, observe silence. That means no talking. At Mount Calvary for the days I was there grand silence began at 8:30 p.m. and lasted through breakfast the next morning. (Breakfast began at 8 a.m.) Granted I slept during part of that time which made it easy to maintain silence (unless you snore). Still, I don't normally go to bed at 8:30 at night or stay in bed until 8 in the morning.

Personally, I was worried that I would run into someone and just strike up a conversation, totally forgetting that I was supposed to keep my mouth shut. And it is an effort to keep my mouth shut at times. (And there are many times in my life I would have been wise to do so! See the last paragraph of this post for one example.)

My fears were totally unfounded. It was a wonderful experience, one that would be difficult to attempt at home, but just delightful there. Why was that?

Our world is a very noisy place. You discover that after spending some time in silence. It has been valuable for me to notice that because of my experience. Noise is quite distracting. The incessant talking when the television is on – talking heads, commercials pushing our consumerist philosophy, pundits alternating between decrying our political woes/solving our political problems – just drives me nuts now. I find very little of value there. (Actually, I found very little of value before I visited Mount Calvary. In fact, most of what Dorothy and I watch of late is the Food Network. Hmmmm.) And television is just one example.

Anyway, being the distractable kind of guy I am (ADD), it has come home to me rather audibly the amount of noise distraction that exists in my world. I had the same experience as a student in Germany many years ago. There was an Arab oil embargo on and fuel was at a premium. The German government passed a law that there would be no driving on Sundays (2 a.m. Sunday to 2 a.m. Monday). I awoke that first Sunday to the thunderous pealing of church bells from all over the city. Wow! And when the bells weren't ringing it was quiet, so quiet that I could hear the tweeting of the train whistle from miles away. I enjoyed that silence as I enjoyed the silence at Mount Calvary.

The second thing that I found quite ironic was my positive experience with grand silence, when at the same time I am decrying of late my experience of the silence of God. Though I haven’t to my mind resolved all of those issues, I have decided to seek God in the silence and have begun sporadically practicing silence as a spiritual discipline. That certainly reflects Elijah's experience. I don't know that it is the same thing as mindfulness (a Buddhist and Christian practice from long ago), but perhaps similar in some ways. I don't know. I'm a neophyte. But I've decided I want to embrace the silence instead of complain about it. I want to join God in his silence rather than criticize him for it. Does that make sense?

One more note.... I actually miss grand silence and told Dorothy so. (One of those times when I should have kept my mouth shut ;-) ) I tried to quickly to cover up by saying that I didn’t mean for her to be silent! You guys out there, if you ever have the positive experience I had with grand silence, you probably won’t want to enthusiastically gush about that to your wife. Not a good idea. Lots of room for misunderstanding, you know. You guys out there, you understand, right?

Grace and peace,



Blogger kelly said...

How do I implement this at my work? It sounds like a cool experience.


7:45 AM  
Blogger Marshall said...

A very interesting post, Owen. Thank you. It is interesting for me to watch the ways our two spiritual paths diverge and converge. Lately, I myself have taken to spending about 20 minutes each evening in silence, whenever practicable. I come home from work, set the timer on the stove for 20 minutes, then sit still, feet on the floor, hands on my knees or in my lap, back straight, eyes closed. Then I simply pay attention. My mind wanders, but I guide it gently back to listening. I generally will acquire a greater degree of peace during those 20 minutes, and a greater sense of life's possibilities.

Rather than rushing to change clothes, rushing to check my messages, rushing to eat, rushing, rushing, rushing to buy those precious moments when I might stop rushing before I have to rush again, I sense that the present moment opens into infinite possibilities. My priorities shift. I become mindful ~ aware perhaps that my time that evening might be best spent resting, or at a hobby, or shopping for groceries, or cleaning, or making calls I have been neglecting, or...whatever. I also have become much more aware of the tenor of my self-talk, which tends to be critical and sarcastic: "Way to go, Pipkin." Silence makes me aware of such hurtful attitudes and allows me the openness to adjust them.

I might note that my daughter's poodle is sometimes puzzled by my silence. I sometimes sit with a smile because Tugboat is at my feet with his "bone" (actually a stuffed elephant toy), wanting to play catch ~ and I become aware of his small, lovely heart, as I am aware of the train whistles in the far distance. He is one lovely set of possibilities among millions.

12:22 PM  
Blogger fraffly said...

We understand.

2:17 PM  

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