In Search of Silence



Noise. Clutter. Complexity. Distractions. These are the norm for many of us in the western world. Since the U.S. election of 2016, the mad pace and chaos seems to have gone over the top. It’s as if the whole nation has taken on the chaotic ADD characteristics of a president who bellows contradicting policy statements every few hours and whose twitter-whims regularly destabilize our government, our economy, and the world.

We barely have time to mourn the latest school shooting before another Cabinet member is threatened or fired by the president. And it’s all blared 24/7 by bloviating newscasters with dueling “facts” and “alternative facts.”

That’s not what this post is about, though. This is about silence. And our crying need for it.

Yesterday I took a “day away” at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Maryland. Twenty of us began the day sitting by a crackling fire in the rustic lodge, gazing out a picture window at the surrounding wintery woods. We shared what we hoped to “let go of” for the day, it being Lent and a time of releasing the things that weigh us down or distract us from living better lives.

I had brought with me a bunch of church work, all of which I looked forward to doing: notes to help me design a Good Friday service, an outline for a Lenten “challenge group” I’ve been leading on Simplifying Life, and a draft plan for refurbishing the prayer walk on our church property. This is the kind of thing I love doing, but I often have trouble finding the time to focus.

Yet when it came my turn to say what I intended to let go of, I said the words, “church work.” I had not intended to say those words, but there you have it. We’ve been talking in our Simplicity class about letting go of the good for the better, and I guess God was showing me how to do that.


Our group spent the next four hours in silence.

I usually read and write a lot at these quiet days. But I didn’t even want the noise of words. Too many words!! Words — especially words that try to capture the spiritual nature — can be counterproductive. If there’s a little glowing ember of insight or wisdom in my mind or heart and I immediately try to capture it, analyze it, and control it, I have lost the ember. It has become about me and my words.

Instead of “wording” and adding to the noise in the world, I sat by the fire for a twenty-minute Centering Prayer session. Then I read a psalm and sat for another twenty-minute session. I enjoy meditating in community, half-hearing the soft sounds of someone making tea in the kitchen, the rustle of pages turning, deep sighs.

Later I went for a long walk. Walking in the winter woods and fields always reminds me of the journey we are all on, the seasons, the dark times, the pilgrimage in search of peace. “To be silent keeps us pilgrims,” as the early Christian desert hermits said.

I walked the labyrinth and noticed that it’s getting easier for me to connect with the feminine God. I’m not as easily distracted by the HE of my spiritual tradition. That was making me increasingly angry, but I’m learning to let that go as a human construct and enter the mother’s heart of God without fighting to get there.

“… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” said Jesus.

Peace & Quiet

After a silent drive home from my retreat, I stopped in to visit my neighbors. I was immediately blasted with the noise of the world: the Secretary of State has been fired! Another top White House aide has been escorted out of the building by security! I checked the news on my phone: The Pennsylvania race! The school gun-control walkout! House GOP concludes no collusion!

I am so glad to have been reminded that my attendance at this noisy circus is not required. I can check in, add words if they are helpful, march when it is necessary, grieve as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem: “Would that you had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Yet I can also return to an inner silence, “a peace that passes understanding,” and rest in knowing that God is love and love wins. It may not happen on my timeline, and it may be “hidden from my eyes,” but love always wins in its quiet way.


♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt: Noise


Guns & Schools



This week has been sadly sweet for me. The sweet part has been spending every day teaching kindergartners. Their innocence and vulnerability turns my heart to mush. The sad part is, I can’t get Sandy Hook out of my head. The nausea clutches at my stomach at unexpected times, like when one child slips his hand in mine or another one asks me to tie her shoe.

Pictures of the children killed at Sandy Hook and their parents have been all over the news since the latest school massacre.

I am anxious at times, angry more often, but mostly sad. It is beyond imagining that our “leaders” have literally been bought by the NRA to the extent that children are being slaughtered in their classrooms and nobody does anything. Nada.

Today, two first-grade girls ran up to me excitedly and said, “Is it true that trump wants teachers to have guns?” One said, “I saw it on TV,” and the other said, “I heard my Mommy and Daddy talking about it.”

I presume that their regular teacher deflected the question, because the girls made a beeline for me when I came into their classroom to supervise lunch. They have questions, and they want answers.

I told them that yes, it is an idea of his, but it is a silly idea and everyone knows it so we don’t have to worry about it.

They asked why he would want to do such a silly thing, and I said because he doesn’t really understand what it means to be safe.

”Well, WE’RE not going to do that,” harumphed one of the girls (a pretty safe bet, since we are a Quaker school).

Like the kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in Florida, these children know a dumb idea when they hear it. And they know a charlatan. In their own way, they are echoing MSD student Emma Gonzalez’s cry: “We call B.S.!!”

This Time it Feels Different

Many of my friends are saying, “This time it feels different.” And it does. For one thing, the outrage has lasted more than a week. We aren’t just moving on to the next media frenzy. The students won’t let us. The NRA boycott is gathering steam and major airlines and insurance companies have stopped giving discounts to NRA members. Dicks Sporting Goods and Walmart are both tightening their gun purchasing rules.

Even trump has made encouraging noises this week about maybe doing something useful, although his ignorance of the issue is appalling. And he seems dead set on arming teachers (pun intended). Fortunately, many governors are pushing back on behalf of teachers and law enforcement.

Yes, something feels different this time.

Could it be that the pernicious evil that powers the NRA has finally met its match in the bold persistence of America’s high school and middle school and now apparently elementary school kids?

We Call B.S.

The NRA seems desperate and is losing its already tenuous grip on reality. Their spokespeople sound like raving lunatics, hinting at armed rebellion and accusing the media of loving mass shootings because “crying white mothers are ratings gold to you.”

The NRA public relations department is working overtime to remind us that school shootings are “extremely rare events” and that more kids die in pool drownings and bicycle accidents than mass shootings. And comfortingly, although there are 55 million school children in the U.S. only an average of 10 per year are killed by gunfire at school. That’s pretty good odds, right?

God in heaven, who thinks like that??


Political Conservative’s NRA Shame


An interesting word prompt arrived in my inbox today, one that wouldn’t normally interest me except that I taught an eighth-grade science class this week. The word is “assay.” It’s not used a lot in day-to-day speech, but it should be.

It’s defined as “an investigative procedure [in science] for qualitatively assessing or quantitatively measuring the presence, amount, or functional activity of a target entity.” The word comes from fourteenth century Anglo-French “assai,” meaning “trial, test of quality, test of character.”

For instance, if you wanted to test the character or functional activity of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — America’s biggest D.C. shindig for conservative Republicans each year — you would investigate who pays for it and who takes the stage.

The National Rifle Association is generally a big contributor to the event, including sponsoring the festive Ronald Reagan dinner. This year, the money behind the dinner is being kept secret.

Also not made public was the big speech by the NRA’s chief executive Wayne LaPierre. As survivors of the latest school massacre made their way to the nation’s capitol to plead for controls on the lethal weapons that murdered their friends and so many others, CPAC made public their schedule of speakers. LaPierre’s appearance was nowhere to be seen. But lo and behold, he’s on the stage as I write.

He’s the GOP’s secret weapon, literally.

Wayne LaPierre speaking to his bought-and-paid-for minions

Republicans may be ashamed or afraid to let the public know that the NRA is paying for and speaking at their conference, but they cannot hide the NRA contributions coming straight into their campaign coffers. That’s how we know that when the man who sometimes sits in the Oval Office in between golf games takes the stage at CPAC tomorrow, he’ll be standing on bales of NRA cash that helped get him into office: thirty million bucks, to be exact.

It’s a pretty simple assay experiment to test the character and “functional activity” of the GOP these days. Even high school students can do it.


A Conversation for 2018


It’s 2018, and America — we need to talk. I know, I know, there has been far too much talking, tweeting, ranting, and raging this past year. Words are flying everywhere, criss-crossing our awareness like the maniacal flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. That isn’t what I’m envisioning.

I mean we need to have a conversation, to communicate. Remember? The part where your lips stop moving and then the other person speaks and you listen to them? Where you aren’t just trying to prove your point, but you are actually vaguely curious about what the other person might have to say?

Yeah. I barely remember it either. That’s why we’re in such a mess.

Conversation seems like a quaint idea, something from a bygone era when we had more time, an era before air conditioning when we sat on our front porches after supper to catch an evening breeze and shoot the breeze with our neighbors. A time when we were a little more interdependent, before we all began carrying around a world of information and opinion in our pockets and no longer needed to actually connect with others.

Still longer ago, in the mid-fourteenth century, the word conversation meant “living together, having dealings with others,” and even more broadly, “a manner of conducting oneself in the world.” I like that. The Latin root meaning “to live with, keep company with” literally means “turn about with,” and an even older language root means “to turn, to bend.”

With this understanding, conversation seems like a dance — the dance of living together, turning and bending to accommodate others, sometimes comfortably, sometimes less comfortably, but still, living life together.

These days conversation isn’t a dance, it’s a battle. You can’t really even call it conversation. It’s just a torrent of words, evil monkeys descending from dark skies, stomping on us, tearing us limb from limb and leaving us lying flattened, like Dorothy’s unfortunate scarecrow.

Evil Words

Our so-called “national conversation” is used to divide and conquer, not to find common ground. There’s no gentle bending or turning involved. It’s wrenching and even fatal for people living in poverty, without healthcare, or in cities where police brutality is the norm. My God, our very planet is at stake but if you mention climate change you’re accused of politicizing tragedies like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. 

Make no mistake — there is evil afoot in America. The man-child currently in the White House is the most egregious example, of course. He absolutely glories in causing pain and division, using words as weapons and firing off twitter tirades like some twisted middle-schooler whose parents are secretly worried he might get his hands on a gun.

He is a sick, sick human, and most of us know that by now.

That does not mean that the rest of us have to live in his madness for another year. We have a responsibility to remember a time when America was a lot greater. To the extent that we safely can, we (and I’m talking to myself here) must learn to ignore the invective spewing from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let’s leave him ranting in the kitchen while we adults head to the front porch to have a conversation about values and meaning and truth. 

I wish you many edifying conversations in 2018!

Happy New Year!

Thanks for the WordPress word prompt: conversation.

An Advent Poem For Shameless Republicans

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Still no brilliance or profundity for an Advent offering. I spent my “quiet time” today, such as it was, finishing a little paperback mystery and occasionally nodding off, tired from rising at dawn with my Druid family to welcome the winter solstice sunrise.

Headed out to greet the sunrise on winter solstice

After a pancake brunch and a leisurely morning spent opening and admiring gifts, our afternoon was filled with the blasts and booms of the new Star Wars movie, a film doubtless bursting with spiritual depth and hidden meanings entirely lost on me.

So as much as I would like to share my Advent thoughts and feelings, instead I’ll share another Advent poem that I did not write. Yesterday I shared a poem from Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian and civil rights leader.

Today I’ll post a poem by Oscar Romero, a human rights leader and advocate for the poor who was assassinated during the Salvadoran civil war.

I dedicate this to the shameless members of the Republican Congress and the administration who just passed a tax bill that will endanger millions of lower income Americans for the benefit of the filthy rich. Merry Christmas.

The God We Hardly Knew

“No one can celebrate

a genuine Christmas

without being truly poor.

The self-sufficient, the proud,

those who, because they have

everything, look down on others,

those who have no need

even of God- for them there

will be no Christmas.

Only the poor, the hungry,

those who need someone

to come on their behalf,

will have that someone.

That someone is God.

Emmanuel. God-with-us.

Without poverty of spirit

there can be no abundance of God.”

When I Was a Liar



I lied a lot when I was young, but I never thought of myself as a liar. The first time I spoke any particular lie, I generally felt a twinge of uneasiness, nervous that someone might question me. Usually, though, by the second or third telling, I fully believed what I was saying and I’d vociferously defend my lie as truth.

I lied so often that it became the norm. Exaggerations, made up conversations or events, rationalizations. All kinds of lies. It never occurred to me that I was lying, because that’s just the way my mind worked. It went there automatically.

The goal of my lies was always to draw attention to myself, to get people to think more highly of me and/or to like me. I wanted to be smarter and braver and kinder and funnier and more interesting than I believed I was. So I just made myself all those things in my head.

It wasn’t until I was almost thirty years old that I came face-to-face with my own dishonesty. It must have been winter because I remember there were coats hanging on the backs of our folding metal chairs in the church basement where our support group met weekly. Together, we wrestled with the effects of growing up in alcoholic homes.

A young blond guy who didn’t often speak sat across the circle from me, squirming. Finally he said tearfully, “I’m feeling a lot of confusion and shame. I lie a lot. I make stuff up. I’m not sure why I do that and I don’t know how to stop.”

The harsh neon lights seemed to dim, and I actually felt as if time had stopped. 

“Oh my God. Oh my God, that’s me,” I said to myself. I’d had no idea.

God has graciously taken away this shortcoming over the years. Once in a blue moon I’ll find myself exaggerating, but I recognize it right away and chuckle fondly at my silly inner child who still wants attention any way she can get it.

It’s so wonderful to know that I will never again have that sinking feeling when someone says, “Wait a minute, I thought you said…”

The President’s Pathology

All this to say that I understand the man in the Oval Office. He is not well. While his disorder is clearly way more complex than mine was, I understand his desperate need for attention.

Sadly, there’s not much chance of the man getting help for his issues. He thinks that psychotherapy is “a crutch” and has said, “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see.” Trump is trapped behind a one-way mirror: he sees everything in the world through his own distortions, but he can’t look back inside at himself. It seems that until he’s driven from office one way or another, we are stuck with his pathology.

I just thought you might want to know that I’m pretty sure he believes all his lies. He has to believe them in order to feel OK about himself because underneath, I imagine his self-esteem is about as low as a human being’s could be.


Thanks for the WordPress word prompt, one-way. 

Insanity in Sutherland Springs

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Insanity. I’m not talking about the mentally ill mass shooter who has just murdered some twenty-seven people inside a church in Texas. (I assume he was mentally unwell.)

I’m talking about the Attorney General of Texas who warns that the shootings will continue and that all businesses, schools, and churches should have plans for when the shooting starts.


“I wish some law would fix all of this,” he says.


Gee, you mean like one banning assault weapons or one requiring stricter background checks or one banning high-capacity magazines meant to ensure more bloodshed, quicker? Or maybe just the simple one introduced in the Senate after the Las Vegas slaughter which bans devices that turn a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic one?


No, I guess he’s not talking about any of those. Here’s his take:


“All I can say is in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry … there’s always the opportunity that a gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”

So much opportunity for the people of Texas!


If that isn’t insane, I don’t know what is.


Am I “politicizing” a tragedy? You bet your sweet behind I am. The GOP told us bleeding heart liberals not to politicize the Las Vegas shooting and now it’s too late for the people in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And it’s too late for all three hundred and seven people who have died in mass shootings so far in 2017.


As the gun-totin’ Texas Attorney General says, better get your plans ready. Because your government sure as hell isn’t going to do anything about the carnage.

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