My pre-Lenten retreat reading was The Holy Way by Paula Huston. She examines ten spiritual practices: solitude, silence, awareness, purity, devotion, right livelihood, confidence, integrity, generosity, and tranquility. There is a lot of food for thought and room for action.
From her chapter on silence she writes:
When I looked at my own life and asked myself whether I could make it more peaceful, I was not at all hopeful. …She had already begun a practice of solitude, but discovered that being alone is not always quiet—rather we often create our own internal noise. Once she quieted her own mind enough, she began to notice things.
First, however, I had to learn how to seek out and refresh myself in the pools of silence that lay hidden along the pathway of my noisy daily round.(p. 40)
The first thing I noticed was that the wing feathers of flying ducks make a hushed but definite squeaking noise, like the stiff rustling of hurrying petticoats. This, of course, was not silence—but it required some measure of silence for me to even notice it.
Next, I heard the dawn wind stirring the tops of the pines. This reminded me of the verse in John in which Jesus is telling his disciples an important fact: "The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3: 8). I realized that a person who did not regularly listen to the wind would miss entirely the point of Christ's metaphor—and would miss a fairly significant theological statement about how things work in the spiritual realm. (p. 41)
We had wind gusts while I was "on retreat," up to 50-60 mph. I will tell you that I notice the wind when it howls around a house at those speeds, or as it buffeted the car with sand on our drive. But most days, I don't notice the sound of the wind. Now, inside my own house, I hear the hiss of the radiator and the rumble of the furnace, and outside in the back yard I can see the dead leaves that remain on the honeysuckle vine shaking somewhat, but I don't hear the sound of the wind. To Huston's point, I wonder how often we don't notice the movement of the Spirit, just as we don't notice the sound of the wind unless it really is howling around us?
Having written that, I walked outside for a few minutes to see if I really could hear the wind that was stirring the leaves. I stood next to the vine and even bent down next to the branches that I saw moving, but all I could hear was the susurration of the cars going down the parkway a block away, a plane overhead, and one car going down the street in front of the house. As I turned to walk back in, there was a small gust, and finally I could hear it rushing by my own ears.
Who has seen the wind?Neither I nor you:But when the leaves hang trembling,The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?Neither you nor I:But when the trees bow down their heads,The wind is passing by.
What will it take for each of us to pay attention to the movement of the Spirit? Who has seen the Spirit at work? Huston recommends finding and spending time in silence. I suspect that is a relative silence—I have been nowhere that I can recall where outside sounds don't intrude, but even that will help still our jangling selves, so that we can know the presence of the Spirit of God. Perhaps like the trees we can bow our heads and know the Spirit is passing by.
and know that I am:
Psalm 46: 10.