A few months ago, Beth was on the third floor of Fall Creek Abbey flipping a guest room. Alongside her was our 8-year-old granddaughter, Harper. As they smoothed bed sheets and fluffed pillows, Harper—with nose wrinkled and curiosity in her voice—turned to Beth and said, “Grandma, tell me again why people come and stay at your house.” As soon as Beth began to answer, Harper quickly interrupted and said, “Oh, yea, yea! That’s right! They like the quiet….” “But Grandma, it’s a little too quiet for me.”
I wonder if you can relate. Is quiet ever a little too quiet for you?
Quiet. Just the sound of the word can evoke both deep longing and instinctual terror. How many times as kids were we reprimanded by the words, “Be quiet!”? And in this day of wearable devices, virtual accessibility, and on-demand entertainment, quiet is truly a rare commodity. Admittedly we recognize that our value of quiet might be the most countercultural one we practice at Fall Creek Abbey. Perhaps a little too quiet for some.
It’s true that often one of the first things guests notice when they walk through the door of the Abbey is how quiet it is--a likely study in contrast from where they’ve come, even their own homes. We also wonder if quiet awakens something within them, an anticipation of what they know can happen when they have time alone and are able to find their still center. Rather than a torture chamber, we often know that quiet is actually a gift.
We’ve featured our value of “Quiet” as the Sunday liturgy in Prayers at Twilight. It supports God’s weekly invitation, not to mention command, to keep the Sabbath, to enter the rest of God through this sanctuary in time. For those who practice Sabbath, we know it to be a gift from God for re-pairing our divided hearts and minds, bodies and souls—not by simply eliminating noise, but by quieting one’s mind.
When I think of quiet, I think of its three classic and interrelated spiritual practices: solitude, silence, and stillness. Quiet is the fruit of these habits of stealing away from people and noise and settling down with oneself and God. It reminds me of a vivid description in Margaret Silf’s book, Inner Compass:
“we must come to stillness. In the silence of our hearts, we must wait patiently for the compass needle to steady. Then it will point to true north, the still center, the fine point of the soul, and we will be enabled to move forward again.”
This describes our experience of what happens when we become quiet and still within ourselves. The compass needle of our soul steadies. We come to rest and gain our bearings once again. And then, from this calm center, we are enabled to move forward with greater clarity and wholeness. Or as Isaiah put it, “In returning and rest” we will be saved; “In quietness and trust,” we will find strength. (Isaiah 30:15) Or the Psalmist who wrote that when we “have calmed and quieted” ourselves, our soul will become like a weaned child, content to rest at its mother’s breast. (Psalm 131: 2)
And so, during the weekly rhythm of sabbath, we pray and practice becoming silent and still. We cease to identify ourselves by what we know and what we do. Instead, we learn to rest and play. And, of course, we learn to “be quiet.” Not as a reprimand, but a gracious invitation to recover our center of gravity from which to live our lives and attune to our true north, the Spirit of the Living Christ.
This is the second in a new blog series on seven values that have given shape to our lives and Fall Creek Abbey; seven values that are the focus of our new book, Prayers at Twilight: Daily Liturgies for the In-Between Times. If you missed the introduction, you can find it here. And if you’d like to pre-order your copy of Prayers at Twilight, you can do so here. (Available by September 3rd.)