“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each,” writes Paul Goodman in the Nine Kinds of Silence.
“There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and sub-vocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”
What a beautiful display, like the unfurling of cards in your hand. At first, one, and then one by one, slowly displayed and made available to be played.
Silence, not just one thing but many. Mesmerizing. As in the magical world of The Phantom Tollbooth …
“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” ― Norton Juster
Ah, the moment after the door closes when you are all alone in the whole house. Silence is so much more than quiet. It is shush. It is thinking. It is fear. It is failure. It is overpowering. It is overpowered. It is expectation. It is reciprocation. It is listening. It is distracted. Isn’t silence amazing?
Goodman and Juster have inspired me to think about the many kinds of Generosity, for “not giving and giving are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each.”
There is the selfish generosity which withholds because it doesn’t notice need; the generosity of scarcity which hoards and stores, fearing scant days ahead; the glad generosity which gains by opening generosity’s door; the generosity of the perfect gift which smiles in anticipation; the generosity of giving without expecting anything in return; the generosity of listening which, by its attention, strengthens and grows; the shrinking generosity of payment due, extracting joy; the gift declined; and yet, yet, the generosity of spirit, unbidden, uncompelled, offered wholly back to God and to those whom God loves.
Giving and not giving are both human ways of being in the world. Only one remains. It is not the gift God loves, it’s the giver.
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. ~2 Corinthians 9:6-7
I don’t neglect on purpose. It’s an accident. I don’t pay attention. Let it slide. Save it for a rainy day. Wait until I have big block of time. Just don’t notice it anymore.
The last may be the worst. Something small and insignificant doesn’t demand my attention so I set is aside until it blends in with the rest of the scenery. And goes unnoticed. Until I notice it. And it’s past due. Expired. Spoiled. Outgrown. Dust-covered. Obsolete. Or just so decrepit that its unusable.
Finally got around to three things yesterday that I had been neglecting. Oh, not intentionally. They were on my to-do list. Marked for execution, at some point. I just hadn’t gotten around to them. And when I did, they were all past due. There may be financial penalties on two of them. One was past deadline. Opportunity lost.
I wonder how fast the cost of negligence is accruing in my life. Not just in financial penalties and items tossed but in opportunities missed. That’s where God’s got my attention. And not in a “yes, you should lament this, shame on you” kind of way but a “dear one, please attend to the details” voice.
God really is exceedingly patient with me. I mean, I discovered I have a winter sweater from LAST January awaiting hand washing in my laundry room. Been what, 10 months? But this is the least of His worries, I imagine. Perhaps he laughs among Himself and says, “Oh that Wendy, she does have laundry issues.”
No, today we’re talking about maintenance issues. Things that can wait, but shouldn’t wait forever. Because things gather: the inbox fills, the bills mount, the dust gathers, the piles build. Isn’t it interesting how inanimate objects are active by accident?
I suspect it’s entropy. That force in the universe that tends things toward disorder and disarray unless we do something to stop it. The things I see seem harmless enough. But what about the things I don’t see? Things like:
- boundaries that erode
- relationships that grow cold
- ideas left to die
- energy that dissipates
These things deserve attention. At the very least, maintenance. A tap or a check-in or a re-visiting every now and then, just to be sure they’re intact. Perhaps some need a bit more care and tending. A bit of patching or bolstering. Some clean up or mending.
Perhaps the very act of attention may regenerate them. A little sorting or clean up may be just what is needed for me to see the nugget underneath. The seed waiting for me to sow it. A bit of water and some fertilizer and who knows what might grow?
My antagonist always seems to be busyness. That sense of needing to do what presents itself for doing and clamors for the most attention. The other things, the ones underneath, are quieter, calmer, willing to wait. If they have a voice it is still and small.
And I wonder if the Sabbath wasn’t created for such as these. A day of rest, not a ‘put your feet up and let the day serve you’ kind of rest but a restorative rest. A day to attend to the boundaries and things on the fringes. A time to address those things we have left behind or set aside. To consider what stays and what goes. To put things where they belong.
Really, it’s childish to leave our things all scattered about. Didn’t our Father teach us to take care of the things he’s given us? To leave our childish ways behind?
- Step 1. Notice the messes.
- Step 2. Schedule regular cleaning.
- Step 3. Enjoy the satisfying feeling of order.
- Step 4. Look for life there and give thanks.