A 2011 Gift to Self & the World

Christmas has, in too many ways, become the equivalent of an overdone theme-park vacation. By its end, one is knock-kneed with exhaustion and desperately in need of a genuine opportunity to rest.

A Christmas snow, like the one we’ve just had, does wonders to cull the silence. A few inches of white powder brings an unusual and welcome softening of sound—in cities, the hum of traffic is muffled; in the suburbs even the broom of the ubiquitous snowblower is reduced to a faint and unintrusive whir, one that remains mostly beneath the surface of one’s awareness.

In such a silence, if you have turned off the television and tempted your child away from his games with a good book, you can hear other things: the chatter and call of cardinals who have found the birdseed; the crack of a log in the fire; hot coffee being poured into a cup; the ticking of your last non-digital clock; the rhythmic breathing of tired child (or parent) who has dozed while reading; the soft thud of a book sliding to the floor.

My Tuesday column today, is an invitation to try something radical and different in 2011:

Well, alright then! For 2011, resolve to be here now, and to serve yourself, but do it in this most excellent way: by cultivating silence and overcoming time within one of the classic disciplines of daily prayer—where the pulse of the psalms calms the breath, the pockets of silence center the spirit, and the liturgical calendar frees us from the shackles of time.

For many Christians, this means the Liturgy of the Hours.

You can read the rest here.

Over at Patheos, theologian Tim Muldoon
is also advocating silence. He suggests that Americans do not even realize they are missing it:

There are screens in gas stations, in doctors’ offices, restaurants. There are speakers in airports, on elevators, in our cars. We are bombarded by externally-generated thoughts that muscle in on our own. And often they simply replace our own: hence the tendency to brand our Facebook pages with favorite songs, movies, TV shows, and so on, which allow us “plug and play” personalities. In such a context, silence is like withdrawal.

And there’s the rub: we’ve become addicted to noise, anything that distracts us from cultivating the practice of careful thinking, reflection, and its natural consequent: prayer. For when we think, and reflect upon the things we think about, one effect is a sense of wonder at it all.

Can’t say I disagree with him. It is so difficult to find silence, let alone sit in it. But if we can cultivate a little silence in the day-to-day, then when the times become noisier and more hectic, we find we can draw on what we have learned in our quieter days; we can use a small space of silence to become re-centered before we must enter again into the throng.

For 2011, I can’t help but believe that the world would be a better place, if everyone made a point to discipline themselves, each day, to just a little silence.

Mark Shea: A Sanctuary in Time
Solitude and Leadership
Catholic Mom in Hawaii: Is on the same quiet wavelength
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Something to ponder on
Concord Pastor: Snowy prayer

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • dry valleys

    There has been a thaw in Britain, after what we consider a very severe December there might be no snow or ice at all tomorrow. I can’t say I rue it because, nice as it was, I need my cycling (now more than ever!)

    I don’t sleep particularly well, but I find that if I spend those waking hours lying in darkness, rather than scrambling around for something to do, it creates a certain peace. I don’t pry into people’s personal lives but I think most of my friends & people I am well-disposed to are the same, as a certain kind of person comes out at the end of it.

    What I do think is that people shy away from silence, reflection, because they fear it for whatever reason. That has to be one of the reasons why we’ve been so desperate to flee from it, just like mobility of all kinds took off because people (in what was a perfectly understandable reaction) didn’t actually like living in these close-knit communities of the past.

    I’ve read about people taking hallucinogenic drugs, & some decided it was best avoided because the inner recesses of their minds are not a good place to go (People who have undergone trauma, have mental health conditions or have/think they have committed some grave offence spring to mind). Are there some who are just afraid of what they might find in the stills? (Or have a valid reason to be).

    A lot of us need a period of reflection to decide where to go in 2011. Millions of Britons (me included) will be getting completely leathered/steaming/bladdered (& all the other slang words too!) on Friday, but hopefully not out of despair, unless it’s despair at the coalition :)

  • Karen Wilson

    Thank you Elizabeth Scalia for reminding us to take time to unwind. I can a test to the great a effects that a few minutes of silence can have on me when I’m feeling fried. I have several things that I enjoy that allow me to create some peace in my life. Reading a book is one of the easiest ways to slow down. I have just begun reading about some intriguingNapa valley architects.

  • http://rockportconservatives.blogspot.com/ Ruth H

    Years ago when I had children who lived at home and were in school all day, the house was quiet as I did my chores. I found that contemplation while doing chores allowed my mind to really think things through. If blogs had existed in those days I would have had some really good things to say. Now some thirty years later, I have a blog but not a lot of my own to say on it. I do link and quote Anchoress often. But where are my brilliant conclusions of yesteryear? Gone with the rest of time I suppose. Wish I could remember some of it at least! Now I draw conclusions but somehow the deep contemplations are gone.

  • Uffda

    When driving alone try turning the radio off. The interior voices you hear may surprise you. And your eyes will take in detail that your ears denied you. Not when the baseball game is on of course.

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  • http://amomforlife-theunconventionalfamily.blogspot.com/ Kelly

    Oh how I long for quiet-let alone silence! As I type this the din of my son practicing drums fills the air…lol.

  • http://flyoverpilgrim.blogspot.com Flyover Pilgrim

    I finally did it. I got rid of cable TV in early December as part of the St Andrew Fast. I love the silence; more time for art, writing, contemplation. It is wonderful.

    @Uffda: I like to drive in silence, as well. Some of my best “thinking before God” is done in the car with the radio off.

    BTW, dear Anchoress, I absolutely love your new photo!

  • http://new-wood.blogspot.com/ Deacon David Backes

    Sigurd Olson, the beloved naturalist who I just posted about today, used to say that without silence and solitude we can’t understand ourselves or the world around us.

  • http://www.threedonia.com/ Troy Hinrichs

    So does this make John Cage’s 4’33 the new anthem for this rebirth of silence?

  • The Owl Is Calling

    Many runners go out with headsets on, listening to ??? as they run (and blocking the potential unseen car blowing its horn.) I run to the sounds of silence. It’s amazing what I hear.

  • Hantchu

    Whoops! I forgot to wish you and your Christian fans a Merry Christmas, but I hope you had one anyway.

    I would recommend Anthony Storr”s “Solitude: A Return to the Self”, which covers the concept ithrough a variety of disciplines, and with great fondness.

    Cheetah, my beloved border collie mix, literalllly drags me out the door for our daily dose of solitude, mostly hiking in the wadi and desert near our house. Seeing the world through the eyes, ears, and nose of a dog can actually be a good meditative device.

  • Elaine

    My family was all at our home for Christmas with little ones running around. It was wonderful and I especially enjoyed the quiet morning time looking at the Christmas tree before everyone got up. Our granddaughter was asking where was baby Jesus all through the church mass and it just was so beautiful. Her grandpa took her up to the manager several times to see the baby Jesus. She swayed to the songs during mass and for a two year old she seemed to get the meaning of Christmas. I would like to bottle that moment and will never forget it.

  • Lori

    My favorite Christmas carol verse, from O Little Town of Bethlehem:

    How silently, how silently
    The wondrous gift is given!
    So God imparts to human hearts
    The blessings of His heaven.
    Though none may hear Him coming,
    Yet in this world of sin
    Where meek souls will receive Him still
    The dear Christ enters in.

  • Kristen

    Since my husband, our youngest child and I live in a very small, quiet mountain town, I am blessed to have quiet. Until this month, we didn’t have a TV. When we built this house, I requested no forced air heat (I would rather be cold!), so we heat with wood and some heat from baseboard heaters I frequently turn down. I can hear the magpies, the coyotes, the wolf in the canyon, the laughter of children in the park trying out their new skis. I hear my books whispering to me to pick them up, I can talk to God in a quiet reverent way. Many who visit wonder aloud at all the “things” we don’t have, but by the time they leave, they wonder how they can fit back into that noisy world they live in.
    When we heard about the storms in the midwest and then on the east coast and how everything came to a standstill, I prayed that the subsequent quiet would cause many to see what they are missing, so they might aim to put more of it in their life, and to actively seek it.