Friday, February 29, 2008

In a nostalgic mood tonight

Today is February 29th. Two months ago tonight, on December 29th, I was in El Escorial, a small city outside of Madrid with Leticia, Eduardo, Alvaro, and Leti's mother, Marta. I took these three photos at various times that evening. Another glorious, sunny, cold, clear, absolutely perfect day in Spain. I miss being there with them. I miss Spain and Italy.

This afternoon I was reading a book entitled Living Prayer, written by Robert Benson. Fabulous book about the life of prayer, the way that prayer can shape our lives. Our messy, unpredictable, ordinary lives can be made extraordinary through prayer. The simple acknowledgement that there is Someone greater than us who oversees our lives and guides our path allows us to live life more attentively and more hopefully. If someone else is in charge, then there is something here for me to see and consider. Prayer, solitude, and silence allow us to clear space in our lives to learn the lessons and be transformed by them.

(To those of you who don't believe in God, I ask that you at least consider the possibility that there is more to us, to this world, to the lives we live than only what we can see. Give yourself an hour or two per day in which you ponder the possibility.)

Benson's chapter entitled "The Road Leads Here" put into words my near constant yearnings to travel, to get away and alone. Here are a few blurbs that have already been copied into my reading journal:

On page 90, he speaks of "paying attention to the beach clock. In fact, I can tell you now that it will go off in July and October next year. I am so certain that I even made reservations already. But this other clock was one that I did not know about for a long time. It is the one, I have come to discover, that calls me to silence and to solitude and to retreat."

Those words almost knocked me out of my seat at Starbucks: somebody else gets me, understands this near deafening internal scream for separation from all that places demands on my time and energy, and for reconciliation with all that makes me whole and strong and fully me.

"The way we live our lives in our cities and towns simply assaults most all of us most all of the time. The sheer unadulterated noise level is enough to make us crazy. Most of the time, we do not even notice. It has become so commonplace, so ordinary, that we are oblivious to it. Perhaps there is a contest going on that I was not told about, the prize going to the person who can tolerate the most noise."

Am I alone in my quest to turn off the television and the radio and the music? In search of silence? Even now, I am at home alone, writing, listening to the quietness of the house and the tick of the keyboard - wishing I could silence that noise as well. Why is there music playing or a television blaring everywhere: in Starbucks, at the supermarket, in elevators, and in the dentist and doctor's offices? Doesn't anyone ever want there to be moments of silence - or have we so tightly bound such moments to the honoring of the dead that we think that being intentionally silent is a harbinger of death?

"The constant assault and agitation drains us and diminishes our spirits. We are just kind of sucked into it and it pulls the life and energy from us. We just talk louder or turn the volume up and try to keep dogging our way through it.

"Every so often, a clock seems to go off in us, or a question, and we find ourselves hungry for some bit of silence and solitude and rest and quiet. But we are on the road or in a meeting or booked solid and we not have time for it and we do answer its call."

Have you ever looked up half way through a meeting or a meal and decided that enough was enough - that it was time to turn off the noise and tune into silence? Have you ever declared one day per week as a sabbath day, as a time when all work ceases, when rest is the rule, and quietness is broadcast over the house stereo system?

"Twenty one weeks is the absolute maximum amount of time that I can go without some meaningful silence and solitude, or else my nerves get shaky, my work suffers, and my relationships start running on empty... I need time to listen, to examine, and to confess, time to take off some of the hats I wear. I need time to listen for the Voice, if for no other reason than so I will recognize it more clearly in the ways it speaks into the noise and bustle of the life I lead."

I wonder what my maximum is. Not more than four or five weeks, I think. I must have at least three solid hours of solitude every month... that seems like precious little when I write it like that. Time to sit alone, sipping coffee, reading, writing, unwinding, reflecting. Where no one knows me or speaks to me - other than to tell me that my coffee or bagel order is ready. I suppose that by "meaningful silence and solitude," he is referring to a few days strung together. That kind of time is dishearteningly rare for me - hence my annual solo treks and my biweekly evenings of nostalgic journal reading, photo album perusal, and moon gazing.

"The silence that I seek must be nurtured until it lives in me no matter where I am at the moment. It was easy to find silence on the mountain at Sumatanga, but what do I do now that I no longer am required to go there? How is one to hear the Voice if one cannot even hear oneself think?

"The silence that I seek cannot merely be the absence of the numbing noise and debilitating detail of life in our society. It must be something more. It must be a solitude that is transcendent, a stillness that can be found in midst of the noise, a silence that is portable."

This is what I seek: portable silence, perpetual stillness, and transcendent solitude.

This is what I hear: The call to the road. The call to silence and solitude. The call to living my daily life carrying the silence and solitude within.

I hear the call. Again. But tonight, I have to settle for looking at photos of El Escorial. Photos from my latest trek on The Road.

Added on Sunday, March 2 - check out this link to a site with great quotes about solitude.


Jen Ballantyne said...

Dear Gail, I came here to thank you for your kind comments on my blog and for your support. So thank you very much, it is appreciated. As I was here, I thought I would just have a little read and WOW - I love this blog. You write beautifully and the topic, just what I needed. I sometimes crave silence so very much, I have craved it particularly lately. I loved reading this post, it reminded me of something else important to me and also gave me a peaceful, restful feeling. I shall return offen. Take good care, Jen Ballantyne xxx (and thank you, truly)

Jen Ballantyne said...

OMG I can't believe I just spelled 'often' as offen, what the hell was I thinking??? So sorry, it must be the pain meds lol!!! x

Amy said...


I, too, crave solitude. It's my healing in the middle of whatever is happening in life. This is a great post with some very thought-provoking excerpts on solitude. The photos, as usual, are lovely, too!

Your sister in solitude,

Lisa said...

Ah, sweet memories. Wonderful photos. Yum.

Silence. Yes.

Our lives demand it. And yet how seldom we realize this. Thank you for sharing Benson's profound words and pointing this out to us.

I am grateful that my house is quiet. Most mornings I wake up and just lay in bed for awhile, giving thanks for the silence and soaking it in. (Only now we are starting to hear a few birds chirping - which is great!)

My custom at work, for the past few years, is to steal away during some part of my day to seek silence. Even for just a few minutes - the bathroom, the chapel, my office with the door closed. It's become a ritual of sorts. To just stop. And listen. Often I will put my head in my hands and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. This does wonders.

So...when we come visit...let's plan some silent time of just BE-ing together into what will probably be otherwise busy days. Okay?

Laurie said...

I created a picture that hangs on my art studio cabinet door that says "I get lonely for myself". Gosh can I relate with what you are saying. I have been dreaming lately of where I could go, how can I explain to my dh that I need to get away for awhile - all by myself without hurting his feelings? But oh, what pleasurable dreams I have dreaming of escaping alone to some wonderfully quiet place....aah! Keep writing. I am so blessed EVERY time I read your posts. Hugs,