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December 17, 2017: The Silence of Advent

By Mother Elizabeth

“Only when I understood that I had a primal need for silence was I able to begin my search for it —and there, deep beneath a cacophony of traffic noise and thoughts, music and machinery, iPhones and snow ploughs, it lay in wait for me.” Silence in the Age of Noise, Erling Kagge

In a parish where I once served, we put up large signs saying: “Sssh… be quiet. It’s Advent.” Parishioners would laugh, because silence is so difficult to achieve during the chaos of Christmas preparations. But I became keenly aware that many took the signs seriously, making time for quiet moments during the day.

Our Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries define silence as “complete absence of sound; abstaining from speech; complete quiet,” and solitude as “the situation of being alone; often by choice.” These are essential parts of the Christian life. I embraced them last week as I walked along a wooded trail in Bethesda. I was astonished by the stillness all around me—the magnificent trees, the snow-packed bushes, the gentle bubbling of a creek—and felt in communion with the beauty of winter. Advent walks like this help me find an inner bower of silence.

Many have written of the spirituality of silence and solitude, especially in winter. Sara Maitland, a British theologian, spent a winter season in a tiny cottage on the Isle of Skye. She meditated, wrote profound reflections, and went on long walks. Erling Kagge, a Norwegian philosopher and explorer of the two Poles, gained inner wisdom from days of solo travel through ice and snow. And Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk, spent his days at a hermitage deep in the woods where he prayed, wrote in his journals, and fed the birds. He wrote: “Silence... is a fountain of life and a window into the abyss of eternity. [In silence], we give our brave and humble answer to life, the ‘yes’ which brings Christ into the world.”

Our busy lives do not afford us the same opportunity to explore the inner world of silence that Merton, Maitland, and Kagge enjoyed. But these wise adventurers encourage us to pause, feed the birds, walk in the woods, and to find peaceful moments when we can say “yes” to the mystery of our own lives, and “yes” to the Christ who comes to bring us His presence, His peace—both alone, and together as his church. “Sssh…be quiet. It’s Advent.” How might you embrace the wonder, the silence, the solitude of this season?  
Last Published: December 14, 2017 9:32 AM
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