Silence is about reverence and relationship

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 11, 2005

Since writing last month's columns on the importance of silence, I have received many moving responses. I'd like to quote from three of them this week.

One regular at our table writes:

WE LIVE IN A WORLD of so much noise. Much of it is unavoidable and unintentional, but I think sometimes we intentionally welcome noise because we are so afraid of silence when we have it. If I keep things noisy, then I won't have to fear the silence.

Because in silence we might actually hear voices (God's, our own conscience, another person's wisdom) that we are more comfortable not hearing.

In almost every great school of spiritual wisdom, silence is considered the key to hearing God. And in the Hebrew scripture, we are told: "Be silent, and know that I am God." And was it not a prophet who heard God's voice – not in the roaring wind or the loud thunder – but in the whisper of a gentle breeze? What so much of the world might regard as dead space – the absence of sound – is actually where we become most fully alive.

—Ron Nowell, Calgary

LISTENING as a key to being "most fully alive"? That view also seems to underlie a note from Switzerland. Peter Hegi draws attention to the German pastor and Second-World-War martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer was very hard on those religious people who are big on words but short on listening, Peter wrote. "He said that those who can't listen to others also keep going on talking to God in their prayers and can't listen to Him, to what He might want to tell THEM."

Speaking of the war years, our final letter addresses a different kind of silence – the quietness of heart that comes from the loving presence of another in our life. It's a Mother's Day thank-you note by coffee companion Jack Popjes on this 60th anniversary of VE-Day and the end of Nazi occupation of his Dutch homeland:

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, Mama. And Happy Liberation Day! Sixty years ago Canadian soldiers fought their way through Holland to Hilversum, our town, and freed us from fear and oppression....

Thank you for shielding me from so much of the horror of war. I was only two years old when the enemy overran our country. You protected me, but you could not protect yourself....

I remember waking up many nights to the sound of gunfire in the neighbourhood. Eventually it became normal and I slept right through it. But did you? How could you, when you knew Papa was out there, in the night, after curfew, bartering for food? How could you sleep when you didn't know where he was, or if he was safe? One time he was gone for weeks and finally returned with one jug of cooking oil....

I remember running to the house one afternoon, excitedly pounding on the door to be let in, shouting the warning that soldiers had blocked off both ends of the street and that they were picking up men to transport them to slave labour camps in Germany. You quickly yanked me indoors and shushed me, reminding me to whisper, not shout this warning. Then I watched as Papa quickly dragged the buffet in the back room away from the wall, rolled back the carpet, yanked open a trapdoor, and clambered down into the darkness. I helped you push everything back into place.

I was only four years old and it didn't bother me that Papa lived under the floor so often. But, no doubt it bothered you! How could you sleep when you knew that any night, at any moment, rifle butts could pound our front door and Papa would have to rush down the stairs into his hiding place?...

Then, finally, liberation! No more hiding under the floor. No more hunger.... No more listening to the BBC news in Dutch on earphones from a secret radio hidden above the linen closet.... No more trains of boxcars with begging hands sticking out through the cracks in the boards....

Thank you, Mama, for looking after me during those terrible years. Thank you for protecting me – with yourself.

—Your son, Jack

AND THANK YOU, coffee companions, for adding to the quietness of our own hearts.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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