Tag Archive | silence

For Crying Out Loud

According to the idioms section of TheFreeDictionary.com, “for crying out loud” is “An exclamation of anger or exasperation, as in For crying out loud, can’t you do anything right? This term is a euphemism for for Christ’s sake.

For crying out loud, I’ve been reading Joan Chittister’s monthly pamphlet for more than four years now. The pamphlet for last month (May 2015) is the first one that I really haven’t liked. This year, instead of reflecting on beautiful paintings each month, she’s reflecting on one particular quotation for a whole month. Brother Mickey McGrath creates a new illustration of the quotation for the front flap of each month’s pamphlet.

The quotation for the month of May was by St. Catherine of Siena:

Cry out with a thousand tongues. I see the world is rotten because of silence.

Cry Out Pamphlet CoverThe quote is an order to do something – to cry out – because of a terrible observation – that the world is rotten because people don’t cry out. Unfortunately, the quote is more depressing to me than uplifting. That’s not the way I want to begin each day – being depressed.

Chittister’s reflection for Thursday, May 21, was probably my least favorite of all.

Silence is a virtue only when it prepares us to act well later. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a symptom of spiritual narcissism.

I took a little offense at that comment. Most people who know me would describe me as a quiet person. I rarely speak unless I think I have something worthwhile to say. If I have to make small talk, I will, but I don’t like it. It’s far from my favorite thing to do.

In contrast to making small talk, I see silence as something good. Silence is an opportunity to think, to learn, and to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. For crying out loud, I certainly don’t see silence as a “symptom of spiritual narcissism.” (Or is it? Maybe I need to think about that a little more – but not this week.)

Silence ripplesBut perhaps, I’m taking Chittister’s comments too personally. Toward the end of May I decided to re-read all the daily reflections in one sitting. I understand that her point for the month wasn’t to criticize the golden moments of silence that I treasure, but rather to criticize the silence that is the opposite of standing up for what is right – the  silence that is the opposite of working for justice.

In her introduction to the month’s reflections, Chittister quoted Pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote during World War II:

Martin Niemoller 2

Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

For 31 days I read a paragraph each day about the need to cry out for justice. On May first Chittister talked about all the injustices worldwide and ended with another quote – this time one by Helen Keller.

Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.

The next day she pounded the same point. “Evil can only remain evil as long as the rest of the world continues to be silent about it.”

One day she brought Anne Frank into the discussion, who had written,

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Finally. A ray of hope. Something uplifting. We can start improving the world any time we want.

snowflake-avalancheAnother day Chittister asked the question, “What did I do today to minimize the evil in the world, in my neighborhood, in my family?” Just in case we feel that we are too little and insignificant to have any real impact by what we personally say and do, Chittister reminded us of what Stanislaw Jerzy Lec said:

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Chittister summarized the month’s reflections with, “It is your voice and mine, alone as well as together, that are meant to raise the alarms. If we don’t point out the breakdowns in human community and make clear the unseen millions in need, they go on being unseen by the many.”

Okay. So this wasn’t my favorite month of “The Monastic Way” pamphlet. But, by the end of the month, I was maybe a little inspired by the message. For crying out loud, “the world is rotten because of silence.” For Christ’s sake, I guess I can join with others and “Cry out with a thousand tongues” to try to make the world a better place, especially for people who are treated unjustly. Now I just need to decide where to begin…

Cry Out

Delicious Solitude

Monastic Way 10-13During the month of October, the daily reflections in The Monastic Way pamphlet by Joan Chittister were on the theme of “Delicious Solitude.” I loved those reflections! Here’s a sampling.

October 1: Solitude, like black olives, is an acquired taste. But once it touches the soul it is the only place where we can come to know ourselves.

October 2: To be alone is to come to know the self for the first time.

October 7: Solitude is the place where we assess our blessings and choose the best of them to be grateful for so that when we go back into the throes of life we are more aware of life’s blessings as they go by.

October 18: Solitude and silence are those places where the creative fountains flow…

October 23: Solitude is outer separation from the frenzy of the world. Silence is inner separation from the frenzy in ourselves.

October 25: Solitude and silence heal the broken parts in us by exposing them to ourselves.

I’ve written before in this blog about how important it is to take time to be alone. Personally, I usually take a few days once or twice (or more) a year to go off by myself to our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells. The time away has always helped me reflect on life in general, or the time away has helped me think about specific issues I’m dealing with at the time. A time of solitude for me is a time to rest, to read, to play music, to talk at length with God, and invariably, to be refreshed. When I can’t get away for a few days of solitude, I treat my soul to a couple hours of playing the piano, or reading, or writing, or going for a walk.

Marian playing Baldwin wideWhen I was a child, I found a time of solitude by playing either the piano or the small electronic organ we had in the living room. When I came home from school, I was supposed to play every piece assigned in my piano and organ lessons ten times each. That’s not what I did. I usually played through each piece once or twice, and then I’d just play what I felt like playing – picking out a tune that was in my mind note by note, or learning some new songs in one of my mom’s gospel songbooks, or trying out all the pieces in a new music book I’d spent my allowance on (like “Greatest Hits of 1962”). I was usually alone in the house. Mom was still at work in Madison; Dad was in the barn; Danny was outside; and Nancy was away at college. I would often spend a couple hours being absorbed in the music, thinking about my feelings, talking with God. If I came home from school angry about something, I’d start by playing loud, discordant music, and gradually I’d work my way toward peaceful sounds. I loved my time of solitude. I still do.

In the introduction to October’s reflections, Chittister observed,

For the first time in history we are no longer an agricultural people who live miles away from one another. We are a people who live in a nest of noise, 24 hours a day, every day of the year…

Silence, solitude, and the contemplation of what it means to be a human being in a world of machines may be long overdue in this society. We take war for granted, crime for granted, cacophony for granted, everything for granted except the need to be alone, to think a bit about something besides the externals of life, to think about not wanting to think about anything at all…

Silence, solitude and contemplation have gifts to give all of us that no amount of frenetic activity can possibly provide. Rest, peace, insight, calm, concentration, serenity, energy and transcendence are no small bounty to garner in the midst of a world in perpetual motion.

Mim treeI’m thinking about trying to schedule a Christmas Mountain retreat sometime within the next few months. I’ll bring my keyboard along, and a brand new hymnal I just bought.

But first, it’s Mim’s turn to go away for some time of solitude. She’s leaving this afternoon to go to a timeshare in Oconomowoc, between Cambridge and Milwaukee, and she’ll come home on Friday.

It’s usually hard for Mim to get away. All of us who live in our house depend on her to take care of us. I’m sure we’ll survive, but we’ll sure miss her. Mim works all the time. She really needs a few days off.

As Joan Chittister said last month, “Silence and solitude are the Sabbaths of the heart…”