In Silence This Advent

Quietly, I sneak out of bed in the dark hearing the drops of rain pitter upon our rooftop and the slosh of puddles divided by passing cars. It is five in the morning. Yesterday I told myself perhaps I would have to wake this early to find that elusive state I dreamt of, the one so key to a season like Advent: silence.

Quietly, I gather my laptop and phone and latch the door that separates the living spaces from the sleeping spaces, tightening my jaw in the prayer that the eager kitten outside does not begin meowing at the first sign of light from our living room lamps. In the dark, I plug in the Christmas tree. The soft glow of blue lights from our blue and silver Christmas tree decorations illuminates the room of comfy furniture and scattered books. Softly, I settle by the lamp that will give enough light to see and work.

All is quiet.


I sit down, laptop in hand, and open the day’s doings. It feels good to reconnect with work, with the calendar, with the to-do list after a week of family-focused hustle and holiday fare. It was a glorious holiday filled with a delicious menu, efficient planning, friends and new acquaintances. It was a time to stop pushing, stop worrying, and just be with the family, letting the pruned branches lay where they will as the water and mud expanded the earth of our backyard.

I catch my breath as I hear a stirring in the hallway. The moments are short; I must make the most of them.

Emily P. Freeman emailed her seasonal “What I Learned This…” feature for Fall.

What did I learn?

I learned my limitations. I learned how to work within my limitations. And then I learned my limitations again.

As Thanksgiving transitioned all too quickly to Advent, I am faced with the well-known reality that grief creeps up where it wills. Turning away will not help, we must face it, lean into it, and discover what there is here, what task of grief must be addressed this season, in order to find any peace. The horizons expand. I pen a presentation for St. Mary’s in Oakdale. In a Brooklinen tote, I gather my Advent resources. One should do it and yet I have five.

Resting at midday on the couch on Sunday, I comb through each one, looking for a connection, hoping for some justification for their numerous quantity. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, with most of the shopping done, I want to seek hope; I want to seek silence.

Christmas trees branches in darkness
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Perhaps I can commit to a little each day: a little reflection, a little reading, a little quiet.

I say to my children on the way to mass, “you want me to be a good mother right? To be a good mother I must be able to be quiet and pray.” My oldest is nine and still, I have not learned this lesson.

A resource by writer Sarah Damm

encourages me to reflect on my goals and priorities this season leading up to Christmas. What is most important to me? What do I hope to gain spiritually? What traditions bear repeating within my family?

And let go of the rest.

She offers a list.

Cards. I do not really want to write these, send them. A stack of thank-you cards sit on my desk from a month ago, penned by a nine and seven-year-old. They are still here only because I have failed to look up the addresses.

Yes, let’s forget about cards this year.

When we give ourselves permission to let go of it all, we find there are those things we want to hold onto. But instead of burying them in a pile of obligations, we can anticipate them, then savor them, then reflect on them as good things we did.

What are your goals these weeks leading up to Christmas?

What is it time to let go of, without guilt or regret, because it only robs the family of peace (even if Pinterest, family history, and the blogosphere tell you not to)?

What does your heart ache to see again, hold and rest in?

Let the rain and chill outside slow you down. Let the store ads sit neglected. Look to your heart and the hearts of those around you….and decide, in a moment silence, what to do this Advent.

Photo by Zoran Kokanovic on Unsplash

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

In Silence, We Can See: the value of rediscovering silence during parenthood

As the children’s activity and noise levels evolve to busier and louder levels, my thoughts slowly recede into hiding, fearful to emerge. My brain shuts off. I can begin to lean on blogs and podcasts for mental life support.

Books provide nourishment. After choosing to set aside one sort-of beneficial book and one beneficial-but-massive book, I quickly found their replacements. Two books of thoughtful essays turned my fancy and filled my cup. The beautiful photography and layout of “Brand Brilliance” helped my soul to breathe.

But it was not enough.

The three older kids went to spend the night with the grandparents. I turned on the podcasts to enjoy without having to make conversation. I washed the windows knowing they would stay clean without grubby finger smudges and tongue residue for at least twelve hours. While a social two-year-old alone without his team is no picnic, once settled into bed, I was free to read.

I held before me a kernel gained from one of the essays I read in the morning titled “Reverence” by Dietrich von Hildebrand. Sounds smart, doesn’t it?

In it, von Hildebrand succinctly writes about the value of things. Everything has value. We have three ways to approach the value of a thing.

First, with smugness, like I know everything. With that arrogance or know-it-all-ness, I walk around telling the world what’s what. To that person, the world looks flat and two-dimensional, because there is nothing to be discovered.

The second is with an eye to usefulness. How can this thing or that person serve me? If it cannot, it is merely black-and-white in my eyes. Only the things that can enhance my knowledge, advance my product, increase my pleasure draw my eye. The world, except for me, is also flat and lifeless.

The third way is with reverence, “It enables the spiritual eye to see the deeper nature of every being.” The person takes an open posture, rather than inserting his or her own thoughts and opinions into the matter, sits back, and “leaves to being the space it needs to unfold itself.”

The best in their fields in psychology, philosophy, science, journalism, any art at all, are capable of this. There may be hypotheses or goals, but the person is open to seeing what comes, to learning the story of the other, putting himself in the other person’s shoes. Thus they discover, the “value inherent in every stone, a drop of water, in a blade of grass, precisely as being, as an entity that possesses its own being, which is such and not otherwise.”

Parenting requires this openness to the other.

The ability to turn and truly see the other. It feeds the little moments and the big. Perhaps more relatable than von Hildebrand, Jack from the show “This is Us” explains, “A big grand gesture, it’s not about the actual thing that you do…It’s about intent. It’s about taking the time to tell the person you care about, I see you, I hear you, I know exactly what you need right now and I’m showing how important that is to me.”

It begins with truly seeing.

When I lay down at night in the silence of a house with only one child, not at the helm but in bed, I experienced something I had not experienced in weeks: my thoughts. True my thoughts kept me up after watching an unexpectedly gruesome television show weeks ago, but they were more flashback and visual. These were thoughts, words, pouring through my mind processing the things I read and the events of the day. Before that evening, they were not strong enough to cut through the clutter of technology and prattle of children. It needed space. It needed silence.

I am going to implement “rest time” once again when I make my relentless children occupy assorted places in the home with walls between them to muffle their conversations. I will seek for myself a quiet hiding spot. I will read. And hopefully, I will think. In turn, I suspect I will see clearly once again.

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Reflections on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 4

Below you find my reflection on the fourth section, titled Music and Silence, of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings. Click here for reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.

Music and Silence

“Music opens up a great, perfectly dimensioned space of silence within which, when things come about happily, a reality can dawn which ranks higher than music.”

Music creates a listening silence wherein we are opened up to the divine. It clears the channel of noise, distraction and thought so we might receive.

1 Kings 19:11-13

11 And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli′jah?”

God is to be heard in the quiet, in the receptive, listening silence.

This is why music is essential to the liturgy. Youth programs such as Life Teen and the National Evangelization Team understand this powerful role of music to lift the heart to God. It seems the music one encounters at a typical Sunday liturgy ignores this fact. Jennifer Fitz, who is wonderful at saying it as it is, acknowledges part of the problem is choice. Some parishioners or priests, whoever it is who makes these decisions at some parishes simply do not want better music. We have experienced that. There may be many psychological reasons for it, but it comes down to a lack of openness and a lack of recognition of what the fine arts have to offer.

The self/we-centered hymns of OCP keep one firmly grounded, they do not open us up to a listening silence that goes beyond the music itself.

Considering more on silence, let us contrast this power of music with Edward Munch’s, The Scream, discussed by Daniel Siedell via a Peter J. Leithart post on First Things. The Scream, we read, expresses Munch’s desperate silence scream through art.

“The painting is ‘the sound of our response to nature’s brute silence and indifference, undisclosed as gift through God’s Word’ (21).”

File:Munch The Scream lithography.png
The Scream – an 1895 lithograph

There is a silence that is a barricaded silence, a solitary silence, a silence in which you find you are truly alone. Then there is the silence that is peace, rest, respite, hushed, that opens our hearts to hear the word of God.

Pieper describes the former which is the “malignant absence of words which already in our present common existence is a parcel of damnation. Isn’t this the silence we, in this society, are so afraid of? With the constant distraction, I’m not sure I agree with those who say we are afraid of silence because are afraid to look inside. Many are, it is true, fearful of that introspection found in silence. But I think, for many who do not know God or the celebration of life made possible by the knowledge of a life beyond this life, the silence is a frightful fearful thing because it is empty. It embodies the scream, the solitary life without meaning.

Fine music opens the heart and mind. The silence is not empty and so need not be a cause for fear. One must be willing to listen. When one is ready to listen. The use of music as a path to interior silence must not be underestimated as a tool for evangelization.