November 2014 (Vol. XXVII, No. 10)

"Is there enough Silence for the Word to be heard?"

Dear Friends ~ As nature slows down and deepens into stillness, we too turn inward and settle into quiet contemplation. Moving from the practice of silence into the presence of Silence, one might ask: "Who or what are we listening for? And how does this inner journey heal the agonizing cries of the world in a time when there is so much to be done?" In a conference on protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed, after much talk on strategies, Rabbi Nina Beth Carlin remarked, "We work WAY upstream—we work with the soul." Perhaps this inner journey of silence is also a kind of working "way upstream" in the watershed of life. A few snippets from an article on "Why Silence Amplifies the Spirit" caught my eye:

If we're no longer able to be quiet and listen, we can't hear our own voices or those of our fellow human beings and our greater environment...Being silent means more than just holding your tongue. It means listening for the softest, most subtle sound of all—the sound of the soul... "Because God whispers." -- Tijn Touber, Ode Magazine, 2008

The restlessness of the human heart is ever absorbed in a longing that finds rest only in that which transcends all longing...I myself lie outside in the backyard at night, alone and in silence, as if waiting for a huge mountain to rise over the trees with the moon each evening. The mountain never appears. Nothing usually happens. But the sheer delight that's mine each night in that time of utterly thoughtless silence is hard to describe. How do we explain the deepest desires that we have? The very desire is what gives us pleasure, not just its gratification.


At first silence had seemed a deprivation, a symbol of an unwanted isolation. I had resented the solitude of my life and fought it. But gradually the enveloping quiet became a positive element, almost a presence...It seemed to hum, gently but melodiously, and to orchestrate the ideas that I was contending with, until they started to sing too, to vibrate, and reveal an unexpected resonance. After a time I found that I could almost listen to the silence, which had a dimension all of its own. I discovered that I felt at home and alive in the silence: it had become my teacher.

~from THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE by Karen Armstrong, thanks to Rodney J. Ferris

Silence is the language spoken by solitude. There is something awesome and breathtaking about real silence; it is numinous, pulling us out of self-containment and calling us toward the invisible. Spiritual seekers "home in" on silence as homing pigeons to their roost, because therein lies the language for personal communication with the sacred. Silence accompanies us into our innermost selves where we are present to the sacred. When word breaks into that kind of silence, there is communion.

~ from THE LANGUAGE OF SILENCE by Peter-Damian Belisle, thanks to Br. Xavier

I believe that God is in me
as the sun is in the colour and fragrance of a flower ~
the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my Silence.

~ Helen Keller, thanks to Liz Stewart

Now is the moment for contemplatives. But what a vibrant presence we should have in the world, and in the depth of our silence. Not an escape, but a penetration to the very heart. That is what now I should like to understand and to make understood — and, most of all, to live. Respect for contemplative values in the world will not come because we preach about them, but because in our life of deep silence we are totally human.

~ from ABHISHIKTANANDA, ed. by James Stuart, thanks to S. Pascaline, OSB

We find our quiet minds as we sit still with our breath, as we make small jottings in our books, and as we practice silent waiting. Then one day, "the little ways" open into broad expanses.

~ from ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE by Marv and Nancy Hiles

Silence transforms one from a seeker of the Divine into a vessel of the Divine.

~ Geoffrey W Dennis

People remark that they feel "out of place," "out of sorts," "depressed," or "bored" when a true moment of quiet descends on them. This is how fundamentally exiled we are from the natural texture of our own silence. As modern people we don't know what to do with this great teacher of teachers. She can be an uncomfortable teacher and guide. Yet great power and healing wait in the folds of silence and solitude. Mirroring the creation of the universe, all great things have come forth from the ancient weave of silence.

~ from THE MIST-FILLED PATH by Frank MacEowen

Eternal God, since silence seems to be
the voice of holiness, the only language
you speak directly,
then I pray to be steeped in it
until I fear it less and welcome it
as an usher to grace,
a narrator of sacred mysteries;
until silence cease the fretful conversations
of my mind with too little else than itself;
until silence calm my heart to an ease,
convene my senses to an anchored focus,
hush my tongue to a chastened hold;
until I discern in the silence
an answer to that necessary question
which, for the very life of me,
it has not yet occurred to me to ask;
until I am stretched alive and deep
to its dimensions, and catch,
at last and ready,
your assuring wink at me. Amen.

~ from MY HEART IN MY MOUTH by Ted Loder, thanks to Kimberly Wuest

Teach me the power and strength of silence
that I may go into the world
as still as a mouse
in the depths of my heart.

~ Mechtild of Magdeburg

The louder our world today is, the deeper God seems to remain in silence. Silence is the language of eternity; noise passes.

~ Gertrud von Le Fort, thanks to Barb Yatsevich

If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence.

~ George Eliot

Image Credits

  1. Public Domain
  2. Mark A. Gonzales ©2014,
  3. Friends of Silence
  4. Drawing by Linda DeGraf © 2014
  5. Drawing by Linda DeGraf © 2014

Gratitude for 2014

In some traditions, or maybe simply within our hearts, autumn and harvest is the time of year when we look back on our work and lives, see the abundance all around us, and give thanks. It is also the time of year when we at Friends of Silence, out of the fullness of our hearts, reach out to you, our faithful and far-flung community, and seek your support to keep the Friends of Silence Letter coming to all who ask.

It's been a full and wonderful year at Friends of Silence. The Letter goes by mail to thousands in the U.S, and almost one hundred readers around the world. More and more folks are signing up to receive the Letter via email (almost 2,500) and are making use of our beautiful and resourceful website,, where you can read through archived copies of the Letter and search in the online library of quotations for just the words and wisdom you need.

Still Point Mountain Retreat, the retreat home for Friends of Silence, together with the smaller cabin known as River House, has hosted many lovers of silence and seekers of soul, both for personal retreat and in programs, such as "Restorying". On the first night of this retreat, we gathered outside the Still Point cabin, which sits nestled in the wilderness, on a small mountain overlooking the Shenandoah River and valley. We clustered near the head of the trail that led through the deepening woods to the Still Point pond, which waited in deepening darkness below. Singing, we walked under the enfolding trees, to a fire, where each was asked, "Are you willing to enter the door that leads to the realm of heart and soul and mystery?"

This is the sort of thing that goes on within Friends of Silence. At the heart of it, we are about presenting to one another the doors, the gates, the portals to the adventure of discovering the world to which we belong. These doors can be in a retreat, like "Restorying", or within each quotation of the Letter. The world they open to is one of imagination, connection, and vitality, and while it is uniquely each one's own to discover, collectively it is nothing less than the hope of the earth.

Years ago, Nan Merrill understood this. And she set about weaving a network of people who found in silence the invitation to their deepest selves. She began a letter to these Friends of Silence, in which she poured her own heart and the wisdom she uncovered in the many and varied streams of thought, poetry, story, and psalm in which she immersed herself. Now this Letter is in the hands of a tiny group of us who carry on her work.

As these things happen, wonderfully, the Letter has continued to grow more beautiful, and more essentially vital. In the hands of our new editor, Linda, with her deft touch, artist's sensitivity, and resonant selection of quotations, the Letter strikes chords on the soul strings of many:

Friends of Silence arrives, exquisitely timed, over and over. Thank you, over and over. … Mary Oliver, Howard Thurman, The Celts. Oh my. … Land o Lakes, WI

How beautiful and timely. Blessings, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

I have been so helped and encouraged by Nan's books and delighted to have found this website. Thank you for this newsletter which is so inspiring… Pershore, Worcestershire, UK

I found the quotes inspirational for daily living, Mysore, Karnataka, India

As you know, the Letter is sent freely to all who ask. It costs more than $2,000 to compile, print, and mail each month, and adding the costs to sustain the Letter (mailing list, administration, design, web site development and maintenance, monthly Letter by email), the cost to keep the Letter alive is around $45,000 a year. This is modest, but we have no subscription income to support the Letter's publication. We rely completely on God's providence and your generosity to get the Letter into the hands and hearts of all who count on it to open the doors to silence and soul.

To keep the Letter coming to you and to all who ask, and to help FOS continue to provide portals to inner life and new worlds through the retreat ministry, prison ministry, and web presence, please use this online form to send a donation.

May you ever be blessed by Silence,
Lindsay McLaughlin