I hear my rapid thought-fire
Ricochet off your heart,
Creating a wall of words to
Keep me safe.
Wait for the space
Between the thoughts
Between the words.
In the Space Between.
I spent the first quarter of my life entombed in a womb of words. A tomb, because I was only living on the surface; a womb, because I was still growing. Still. Gratefully, by the time computer technology advanced to the point of a 24/7 stream of words, I had begun a serious journey into the space between the words.
In those first twenty-five years, fear was my tomb and words my shield against perceived- and real- danger. Without space between the words to sustain me, I missed so much:
• The nuances of bird songs
• A loved one’s plea for comfort
• Justice framed in hostility
• So many gifts of insight offered and missed
• Awe, Joy, Love
• The voice of God
Gingerly, but intentionally, I inched out of my tomb and practiced listening. At the dinner table and in other gatherings, I consciously chose to stay quiet, and just watch people and listen. People began to see the deeper me, and their responses lessened my fear, thus lessening the need to protect with talk. Eventually silence became more of a habit, and I came to feel at home with it.
In the last quarter of my life I struggle more with how I respond to the avalanche of words coming at me from society, and my responses to it:
• The need to know everything about everything by reading and sharing constantly, both verbally and virtually.
PRACTICE: Choose to limit how many articles I read on one topic, and how much time I spend in analysis. Instead, I try to spend some of the time in quiet reflection on how the topic relates to me, and I pray about it, so it doesn’t remain just an intellectual exercise of my ego.
• Multitasking, particularly with mixed media
PRACTICE: I ask myself, why is the TV/radio on if I’m working on my tablet and not really listening? What good is my split attention doing me or others? When I am at ease with myself, I turn something off. When I still need the chatter, I give in. Hopefully I ask what my need was!
• Monologue vs. Dialogue
PRACTICE: What did that person just say? I was busy thinking about my response. I chose to lose my chance to respond instead of losing the other’s contribution; instead of losing the emotion, the intuitive request lying between her words.
• An Overcrowded Calendar: Constant activity deprives us of the spaces between. If we are rarely still, we miss the voice of God.
PRACTICE : Prioritize. It helps me to open my calendar to “monthly view” before I make a commitment; to assess my needs first and weigh them alongside the invitation. Often, I need to call back, allowing time to consider the effects my “yes” may carry.
• “I’m late, I’m late, For a Very Important Date”: It is taking five seconds instead of two seconds to upload a website. The car in front of me is traveling at speed limit, and so am I. But I have to pass it. The “old lady” in front of me in the grocery store line is taking forever. This “old lady” has no place to be, but she wishes the one in front of her would hurry up.
PRACTICE: Slow down. Ask myself why I need to hurry. The question is a choice to live consciously. If I choose to shrug off impatience, I make space for reflection. While I wait for the “old lady,” I can notice that she uses food stamps and I can pray for her. I develop the virtue of compassion; whereas, if I fret, my energy goes into the fretting … What good does it do either of us?
It is not just for the sake of our own growth that we must practice silence. It is now a countercultural activity. The common good dictates that we address injustice in society. Before the prophet speaks she/he waits in silence for the words of truth to come. And when they are born from a posture of silence, they “roll down like a river and… like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24 paraphrased)