Making Your Own Peace on Earth For Christmas

 “Peace on Earth.” “Silent Night.” Given how Christmas is portrayed in our culture, these words would seem to be the last ones to apply to this wonderful holiday.

But that’s what I want for Christmas: Silence. Peace. Big gobs of it. I don’t know when, but I intend to give it to myself as a gift, and I’m wondering if you might want to do the same. Or perhaps you already do.

This past weekend, the Quaker Meeting I attend scheduled its annual Silent Retreat. I wrote about it last year–6 1/2 hours of group silence, spent separately and together, bookended by explanations for the new folks, and sharing at the end of the day. I was really looking forward to another Day of Silence this year…till I realized I wasn’t ready for it. Son One is visiting, and I’m in Mom mode, which means cooking, hiking, playing guitar, hanging out, doing work projects…and TALKING. This was not the right time for a silent retreat, however much I longed for it.

So I skipped it. For now. But I’ve promised myself, sometime before the end of January, a good, four-hour chunk of time to sit and think and write, maybe go for a walk without, for once, talking to myself out loud like I do. (Not even embarrassed about that!) Probably I’ll wait till The Mate is out of town, so’s not to feel like a slacker.

Keep in mind–I already lead a pretty damn peaceful life compared to most folks. I live on an island! I’m no longer a classroom teacher, I’m a writer! And yet even I feel the need for more quiet in my life. If that’s true for me–how much more so must it be for, well…maybe you?

Silence means different things to different people at different times. I thought I’d share one of my takes on silence that turned into a song. Here are the lyrics to “Sometimes Silence”:

Sometimes silence is a force

that generates inside;   

sometimes something sets a course

and all you have to do is glide, glide, glide…

 and sometimes nothing moves at all, 

no matter how you try.


Sat yourself down just to get something straight,

Mind racing like a horse from the gate.

Need to focus on something profound;

Concentration’s going down, down, down…

So you try, try, try, try…

Sit and listen to the breezes sigh,     

Giving it your best shot–like you have a choice–

Straining to hear that still, small voice.


Sometimes silence strikes itself

and lights you like a fuse;            

Sometimes it shows you all too well

how much you have to lose, lose, lose…

And sometimes you’re just sitting there, increasingly confused.


Sat yourself down just to get something straight,

Mind racing like a horse from the gate.

Need to focus on something profound;

Concentration’s going down, down, down…

So you try, try, try, try…

Sit and listen to the breezes sigh,     

Giving it your best shot–like you have a choice–

Straining to hear that still, small voice.

I want to hear that still, small voice.


 And here’s the live version. NOTE: FAST-FORWARD TO MINUTE 1.33 TO AVOID HAVING TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIENCE SINGING HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, AND ME THANKING PEOPLE…and yes, the film quality is terrible but it does get better, and the sound is pretty good.

Did any of this resonate with you? How do you get your silence? Will you be able to gift yourself with some, this crowded, busy holiday season? Please share.

PS–another gift I’m giving myself is a week off from blogging, so…merry Christmas! I’ll pop back in to celebrate the end of 2014 with y’all.





Counting the Sounds of Silence: How Low Can You Go?

Road Trip IV, Days 44-46: Great Basin National Park to Yosemite

Wait–Great Basin National Where, now?

I’ll give you a hint: you get there by driving what the atlas calls “America’s Loneliest Highway.”

Anyone? Anyone? Beuhler?

The answer is eastern Nevada. About the closest you can get to the middle of nowhere in the Lower 48. Except since the 1990s, there’s a something there: a national park. Where, as loyal citizens of Brown Sign Nation, The Mate and I HAD to go camp.

Needless to say, we did not have much company. First of all, it’s not most people’s first choice for Spring Break. Second of all…did I mention it’s in eastern Nevada?

So we were very happy. It’s not that we’re anti-social. We LOVE people. (Well, I do, anyway; The Mate is a bit more selective.) Just…not when we’re camping, ok? Let’s just say that the odds of ALL our fellow campers having the same noise standards for camping as we have are, well, low.


On our first hike, we met two other people. The next morning: none. In a national park? That never happens. It made me feel all the more fortunate to be able to be out hiking around on a mountain in the middle of a desert in the middle of a work week in the middle of March.

And it gave me plenty of silence in which to think. At one point during the morning hike I started counting the sounds I could hear.

Hiking poles.
Twittering birds.*

Four sounds: that was it. Had we quit using our poles: three. Had we sat down: two. (It was a little too cold for sitting.)

(*I like birds, but not enough to have learned to distinguish their twitters.)

That got me wondering, when else have I ever had the chance to hear such few sounds? Well, the night before, in our tent, all I could hear was the creek we were camped next to. Nights can be quiet. But days?

It’s not that I generally USE silence all that well when I get it. You’d think someone raised in the Quaker tradition of silent Meeting for Worship would be better at it, but here’s what my brain was doing on that hike:

Am I hungry?
Song lyrics song lyrics song lyrics…**
What was I doing a week ago today?
Song lyrics…
Where are we staying tonight?
Song lyrics song lyrics…

(**these days those lyrics are ones I’ve written; still annoying)

But then I started thinking about the silence itself, and I realized that I was feeling more alive than I usually do. Not just happy (though I was), but ALIVE. Why?


The simplicity of sound seemed to parallel the simplicity of the landscape. I don’t mean lack of diversity–I counted three kinds of pine along with fir, spruce and cedar, plus those amazing aspens. But all those trees were native, as was the sagebrush and the scruffy little wild rose bushes and the creek willows with skin like copper. Nothing had been introduced from outside. Everything belonged. The way Nature or God intended.

So I think that’s what silence does for me, even when it takes me awhile to use it well: it allows me to see what is “native” in my life, what is supposed to grow there. What belongs.

And you? What does silence do for you? Where do you find it–indoors, outdoors? In church, or the Church of the Great Outdoors? Do you need it in great chunks, or do small portions suffice?

Shutting Up Now: How Long Can You Be Quiet?

When’s the last time you spent a quiet day?

I don’t mean a day of rest, drinking coffee and reading in your favorite armchair. I mean a day of NOT SPEAKING.

I know, right? Here’s an embarrassing truth about me: even when I’m alone, I talk. Aloud. A lot. I’d like to pretend I’m holding a conversation with my dog, but…my dog is not present when I ride my bike or go on a long drive. And I’m still yakking producing fascinating monologues.

So it was both a relief and a challenge to attend, this past weekend, the silent retreat held by my Quaker Meeting. It wasn’t even an entire DAY–just 6 1/2 hours of silence, the last hour of which was allowed to be punctuated by people who wished to share the insights that the previous 5 1/2 hours had delivered.


(Courtesy Matisse)

(Courtesy Matisse)

I spent my time alternately walking out to the rocky nature preserve near the retreat house, staring out the window, sitting on a giant lichen-covered rock, and writing, writing, writing in my journal.

Oh, and eating. Quakers are master potluckers.  But even lunch was silent, broken only by the occasional crunch of chips.

To say the day was refreshing would be a massive understatement. It was an ENORMOUS gift (as I know, in my old teaching life, I would never have used up an entire weekend day for something like that, much as I needed to). It was weird–especially walking while keeping all my “air-journaling” conversations inside my head for once. It was wonderfully social, all communication held to smiles and nods.

And it was too short. At the end of the 6 1/2 hours, I didn’t feel the need to break the silence. I almost wished we could have finished up, including all the dish-washing and vacuuming and figuring out whose coats were whose, in quiet communication, like the rest of the day.

I’m Word Woman, OK? So for me to wish to step away from words for so long…well, that tells you something.

So I’ll come back to my first question: when’s the last time you were quiet for a long period of time? What does silence do for you? Especially those of you with children still in the house, do you have a way to find any silence in your day? What do you do with it? We’d love to hear.