So… it’s been pretty loud lately. All over the world, and for a lot of people I know.
And for me.
And, you know, there are all sorts of sources for this loudness. So many. I won’t go into all of them; I think we can each name something loud around us. Or within us.
We can’t do anything about the external loudness. It’s going to be there, no matter what. I live in a city, and it’s loud here. Trucks are loud, construction sites are loud, Facebook is loud.
The future is loud and the past is often louder.
We are surrounded. Loudness shakes us, rattles us, confuses us and we can’t concentrate.
And we are loud internally.
Fear is loud, shame is loud, desire can be loud, regret is loud, anger is loud. But we can do something about the internal loudness and maybe do something about the external loudness too.
This is from a guy who collects silence:
When I speak of silence…I mean silence from modern life, silence from all these sounds that have nothing to do with the natural acoustic system, which is busy communicating. Wildlife are as busy communicating as we are, but it’s not just messages coming from wildlife. I can name some that have been really transformative in my personal life, but it’s also the experience of place, what it means to be in a place.
—Gordon Hempton, interviewed by Krista Tippet On Being; broadcast July 4, 2013
So silence is about being present. Silence is about being vulnerable. And that’s the hardest thing to be. It requires courage to be vulnerable.
Each week we read two different parts of the Tanakh in the synagogue, the Torah and the Haftara (which is from the Prophets). This week’s Torah is Parshat Pinchas (Bamidbar [Numbers] 24:10–30:1).
Zealotry is rewarded (not my favorite), land is divided up (which will lead to more loudness, later), Holidays are outlined. There’s a lot going on. In the midst of all this loudness, God speaks to Moshe. (27:12–13)
…וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, עֲלֵה אֶל-הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה; וּרְאֵה, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ
…וְרָאִיתָה אֹתָהּ, וְנֶאֱסַפְתָּ אֶל-עַמֶּיךָ
God said to Moshe, go up this distant mountain and see the Land…
And when you have seen (understood) it, you will be gathered up with your people…
Okay, so I chopped the verses up and my translation isn’t exactly what you might find anywhere else, but here’s what I think it means: In the midst of all the loudness around us, sometimes we need to pause. We need to stop for a minute and really see. And it’s not easy. That understanding can be as hard to reach as a distant mountain.
We also read my favorite moment in the Tanakh, from I Melachim (Kings) 19:11–12. Eliyahu is hiding in a cave and he sees this:
וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לֹא בָרוּחַ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ, לֹא בָרַעַשׁ יְהוָה…
וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ, לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ, קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה
There was a huge, strong wind that was tearing the mountains and smashing the rocks to pieces in front of God; God was not in the wind. And after the wind, there was an earthquake; God was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire; God was not in the fire. And after the fire, the thin voice of silence.
Loud. Ra’ash, the word for “earthquake,” also means “noise.”
But God’s name here, the name I prefer, is “What Is.” That’s the way I think of God. We’ve talked about this before, right?
God is What Is.
And that’s after the loudness, the storms and the noise and the fire.
What Is. The Present. That’s in the Thin Voice of Silence.
And that’s within us. And we can get to it. We can find the silence. But it’s so hard to do. It requires being vulnerable. Because we can’t do it without acknowledging love. And that takes more courage than traveling to a distant place, and more effort than climbing a mountain because love means being vulnerable. It just does.
But it’s here. And we can find it in a game of catch, or in a walk in the park, or sharing a meal with someone, or in a conversation with a friend, or in one of those hugs that you think might be too tight, but really isn’t. It’s in all those places and in our breath.