The Creative Spirit: Music in the Silence

In the chapel at Marianist Retreat & Conference Center. Sculpture by Br. Mel Meyer, SM

“Going nowhere…isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.” – Leonard Cohen

Last weekend, I helped lead an advent retreat at the Marianist Retreat & Conference Center just west of St. Louis. Whenever I return to this beautifully spiritual place, I feel like I am returning to “nowhere,” as Cohen writes above, to a place where I can step away for a while and see everything a bit more clearly. And I think I begin to hear more clearly and succinctly, too, as the noise of the city and everyday life melts away and I find myself surrounded more and more by silence.

In that silence, I have found, I can often “hear” what God is saying to me, can begin to discern more clearly what God perhaps has been saying all along when I was too busy to listen and life was just too loud. Sitting in the chapel late last Friday night, I began to think of this silence in terms of music, which is itself made up of both sound and quiet, of course. In the “music” of this all-to-hard-to-find silence, I began to feel myself drawn in the direction of the master composer and musician, the One who brings all to life, throws beauty over the world like a prayer shawl, and invites us all to “waste time with him” every once in a while. So I wrote this short poem:

The light in the chapel has been dimmed
the retreatants retreated to their rooms
the silence of night surrounding me and ringing in my ears
a present but somehow unheard concerto.
Quiet like the drawing of a bow across invisible strings within
a soundless song that yet angles me in your direction
points me toward your presence
floating in the room like a single bright yellow fan of a gingko leaf
dropping slowly and freely and yet
demanding my attention
asking for my consent and response
requiring my awe like a whispered sigh from my lips.

A song, yet not sung
as silence demands itself to be heard alone.

O you, who make the leaves fall noiselessly.
O you, who make the silence sing.
O you, who compose and give life
and demand we play it through to the orchestrated end.
Only you, O God.
Only you.

Happy third Sunday of Advent to you. It’s a time to stand still and learn to be amazed. In the immortal words of E.B. White’s sage spider, Charlotte: “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” For it’s there.

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