curious thing this december, more than ever, it is the stillness that speaks to me. that i seek. that some days i grope toward as if a blind one making my way through the woods on nothing more than the steadiness of my footsteps and the fine-grained whorl of my fingertips rubbing up against the underbrush, telling me i’ve lost my way.
it is as if the deep dark stillness itself is divining me toward home.
which, of course, it is. it always is.
oh, there’s noise all right this december. clanging like a cymbal in my ear, the squawking from the news box, the screeching of the brakes, the sound of plain old money gurgling down the drain.
but i am–in my best moments–pushing it away.
oh, i take it in in stiff long drinks–the news, the noise, the grave distractions–but then i do odd things: i lift the blinds at night so i can watch the snowflakes tumbling. i wind the clock and listen to its mesmerizing tick and tock. i sit, nose pressed to frosty pane of glass, and watch the scarlet papa cardinal peck at berries on the bough.
i am practicing the art of being still.
stillness, when you look for it, is never far away, and not too hard to grasp.
i find, though, it takes a dose of concentration. and sometimes a stern reminder; i mumble to myself, be still now. but then i find my steps determined.
just the other night, my heart most surely trampled, i climbed the ladder to the attic, pulled down the box of christmas treasures, the ones that spark the eyes of my little one, my little one who could not care about bankruptcies and buyouts–though he is sadly quite abreast on both.
it is advent time for my little one, and so it is advent for me. it is the counting-down time, the something-coming time of darkest winter. and, in my good spells, i am deeply, urgently, savoring the getting there.
i am hauling out my usual armament of soothers and elixirs. i simmer spices on the stove. i scatter corn on drifts of snow. i kindle candle flame. crank soulful christmas tunes. tiptoe down the stairs in deep quietude of night, and stumble onto moonlight making magic out of blue-white undulations in the yard.
i am even dropping to my knees, or curling up in bed with incantations on my lips. they carry me to sleep some nights; what better lullabye?
i am ever thankful this december for the one bright side to all the downturn: there will be little shopping this year. no running here to there.
i will simply look the ones i love squarely in the eye. i will tell them how deeply and dearly i depend on their presence in my every blessed day.
and among the ones i love there will be the cheery fellow who drives the bus that hauls my little one to school, the pink-haired checker at the grocery store who always makes me laugh, the neighbors who every time i ask open their door and let my little one come in to play.
there are the voices faraway, the ones who call and calm, the steady ones, the ones who make me laugh. the one who calls merely to “sit with” me on a night when she guesses i just might need some sitting.
it is an advent this year of simple things: there is a ring of candles on the kitchen table, one new one lit each and every week, till at december’s peak there will be a rising cloud of incandescence as we join our hands and pray.
there is a string of red-plaid pockets, each one numbered, 1 to 24, strung from one window to another, and every single morning, my little one rushes down the stairs to find the sweet tucked there inside the number of the day.
it is, as it so often is, my littlest one who softens me, who stirs me back to stillness, who insists we not forget to give the twisty fir its drink. who takes me by the hand so i don’t crash and break. who asks his big wise brother if he too “checked advent,” (meaning did he yet dig out his daily dose of duly-numbered sweet).
it is, nearly as deeply, the thick meringue of snow bending all the branches. it is the flash of scarlet feather at the window. it is the sound of orange peel simmering. and the tinkling of the spoon scraping at the bottom of the cocoa-filled mug.
these are the things that make for stillness, or rather are the keys on the ring that might unlock it after all.
it is, in fact, the heart, the soul, that are the vessels of pure true stillness: those chambers deep inside us that allow for the holy to unfold. the birthing rooms, perhaps, of our most essential stirrings.
to be at one with all that matters. to begin the pulse-beat there where the quiet settles in and the knowing reigns.
it is, yes, in the stillness that the sacred comes.
and this december, more than ever, i am blessed to find it’s that, simply surely that, that is carrying me through this tangled woods.
i type this in the interlude between the madness of this week. and i wonder how you too seek stillness. do you hunger for it? do you find yourself distracted by the worldly buzz? do you get lost in the woods sometimes? or have you forged a steady path to that place that soothes you?
in two days, the chair turns two. i’ll be back to mark the day. as always, bless you for pulling up your chair…
Dearest bam … two years, my goodness. I remember the first post like it was yesterday. It was a breath of fresh air then and continues to this day. Lately, I find myself perplexed as to whether the times we live in are either a blessing or a curse. The holidays this year will be much leaner for many, our house included. But, I must admit that it almost seems as though it will be a bit of a blessing. We will focus on each other more this year … opting to share a beautiful meal in lieu of gifts exchanged between extended family members. Running about, spending money needlessly, searching for that one perfect gift that no one either needed or wanted in the first place has left me as cold as the scene outside the doors in the picture up above. Have we forgotten that there is solace and peace in simply ‘being still’? Peace may be at a premium of late, but I am reminded that there’s so much to be grateful for … may we all be reminded in the stillness, wherever we can find it.
p. s. The picture above is perfection.
first I must say, who would think that stillness could come at a computer screen. I became more still with each word and image you described here today.these days I am thinking about a wedding and creating a home with my love, which means there are just a few to-do lists each day. in our newly painted home, with pinafore yellow and cactus berry walls, I find that I don’t want to fill the room with stuff just yet, I want to enjoy the stillness and the depth of beauty found when two colors kiss one another bringing four walls together to create a hearth and home.i give thanks for companions such as all of you in this season of waitng and hoping
I received this today from the Merton Center….and of course isn’t Bam on the same cosmic thread. I thought to share it with you all and then find my cup of stillness and peaceful quiet. Today is the anniversary of Fr. Merton’s death…The monk/poet’s journey toward silenceBy Frederick SmockSpecial to The Courier-JournalOn the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s death, I want to think about silence. Certainly, Merton took a vow of silence, and he was occasionally silenced by the Vatican. But I am not thinking of those forms of silence. Rather, I want to think about silence and the poet’s art.Much of a monk’s life is spent in silence. Much of a poet’s life is spent in silence, too — a poet spends a fraction of his time actually writing poems. Merton was both a monk and a poet, and thus well-acquainted with silence. Like meditation, and like prayer, poetry is surrounded by silence. Poetry begins and ends in silence. Silence is also inherent within a poem, like the silences between notes in music. As the great Chinese poet Yang Wan-li said, a thousand years ago, “A poem is made of words, yes, but take away the words and the poem remains.”Still, when we think of silence, we do not necessarily think of Merton. He was a voluble man, and a prolific writer. He continues to publish, posthumously. He always seems to be speaking to us. Bookshelves groan under the accumulating weight of his oeurvre. However, late in his life, Merton lamented the fact that he had written so many editorials, and not more poems and prayers — forms that partake of silence. “More and more I see the necessity of leaving my own ridiculous ‘career’ as a religious journalist,” he wrote in his journal (Dec. 2, 1959). “Stop writing for publication — except poems and creative meditations.””What do I really want to do?” Merton asked himself, in his journal (June 21, 1959). “Long hours of quiet in the woods, reading a little, meditating a lot, walking up and down in the pine needles in bare feet.” What a man commits to his journal is, at once, the most private and the most authentic version of his self. Books written for public consumption are not errant, just not as heartfelt. In his journal for the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas (March 7, 1961), Merton wrote, “Determined to write less, to gradually vanish.” He added, at the end of that entry, “The last thing I will give up writing will be this journal and notebooks and poems. No more books of piety.”Life is a journey toward silence, and not just the silence of death. Youth talks a lot — is noisy. Old age is reticent. There is so much to consider, after all. Older men tend to hold their tongues. They know the wisdom of forbearance. To have seen many things is to reserve judgment. In this modern era, when news and politics are dominated by endlessly talking heads, silence becomes a precious commodity. The mere absence of speech sounds like silence. But true silence is a presence, not an absence. A fullness. A richness that depends for its worth on the purity of intent, not just the lack of distractions.In a late journal entry (Dec. 4, 1968), Merton wrote of visiting the grand stupas of Buddha and Ananda at Gil Vihara, Sri Lanka. “The silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing….” Speaking of the figure of Ananda, Merton concluded, “It says everything. It needs nothing. Because it needs nothing it can afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered.” He also photographed these statues, focusing on their beatific serenity.When we are silent, we can hear the wind in the trees, and the water in the brook, and is this not more eloquent than anything that we ourselves might have to say? Of living in his newly-built hermitage, Merton wrote in his journal (Feb. 24, 1965), “I can imagine no other joy on earth than to have such a place and to be at peace in it, to live in silence, to think and write, to listen to the wind and to all the voices of the wood, to live in the shadow of the big cedar cross, to prepare for my death….”Is it ironic for a writer to praise silence? No more so, perhaps, than to praise ignorance, which is what Wendell Berry does in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” There Berry writes, “Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered, he has not destroyed.” So, perhaps we should praise silence, for as much as a man has not said, he has not lied.Praise of silence runs throughout Merton’s meditations. For just one example: of his teaching of the novices at Gethsemani, he wrote (July 4, 1952), “Between the silence of God and the silence of my own soul stands the silence of the souls entrusted to me.”Certainly, since his death, Merton has been silent — if not silenced. There is also the soft rustle, just out of hearing, of the poems and prayers he did not live to write.Frederick Smock is chairman of the English Department at Bellarmine University. His recent book is Pax Intrantibus: A Meditation on the Poetry of Thomas Merton (Broadstone Books).
In the stillness is the dancing!
praise be every single one of you– wise one, with that quote i’ve heard you say so often, though it takes on new meaning now, lamcal up above with praise to merton and wendell berry, and to slj and pjv times two. bless us all in our stillness…… now i am going to give a slow careful read to the merton meditation. i love when y’all bring such pennings to the table. of course merton has much to say on stillness, and silence, two rare gifts that do not garner nearly enough attention…