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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Find A Stillness

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert, with Clarie Boston, Worship Associate, Paint Branch Youth Singers and Chalice Dancers

Find a Stillness

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

December 4, 2011


Reading From “The Eloquent Sounds of Silence” by Pico Iyer (Time, Jan. 225, 1993)


We have to earn silence… to work for it:  to make it not an absence but a presence;  not emptiness but repletion. Silence is something more than just a pause; it is that enchanted place where space is cleared and time is stayed and the horizon itself expands. In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think; but what is true to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below our selves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows…


So it is that we might almost say silence is the tribute we pay to holiness; we slip off words when we enter a scared space, just as we slip off shoes. A “moment of silence” is the highest honor we can pay someone: it is the point at which the mind stops and something else takes over (words run out when feelings rush in). A “vow of silence” is for holy [ones] the highest devotional act. We hold our breath, we hold our words; we suspend our chattering selves and let ourselves “fall silent,” and fall into the highest place of all.”




“We hold our breath, we hold our words; we suspend our chattering selves and let ourselves “fall silent,” and fall into the highest place of all.” So wrote Pico Iyer, a British Indian, raised in the US, now living in Japan, in a beautiful article in Time magazine nearly twenty years ago and re-published by Time’s World edition in 2001, that I’ve kept in my file since then.


I’d not thought before about what it means to “fall silent,” and this related idea of his resonates with me too:  that “it is in silence that we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below our selves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.” We fall there, into the silence. (“The Eloquent Sounds of Silence,” by Pico Iyer, Time, 1/25/1993.)


Our friends the Quakers know about silence. Their worship is entirely in silence, unless someone is moved by some deep stirring to speak. I’ve spoken here before about their notion of “gathered silence.” It happens to us sometimes too.  Perhaps you’ve noticed how the silence here, if enough time is given to it, may settle in around us here, like a warm afghan, or bathe us like soft diffuse autumn light slanting through the windows. It is in those moments that the silence has gathered. It becomes something palpable, and then we are “falling silent” together. It is a shared silence, a gift we give to each other, by refraining from speech and other sounds.


I think my first experience of falling into silence was on a youth group retreat when I was a senior in high school. We went camping at a state park on the ocean – I grew up on Long Island, NY – and I still remember snatches of that retreat.


Oddly, I remember that as I drove there, with one of the advisors in the passenger seat and probably some kids in the back, I was trying out different positions for my hands on the steering wheel, to see which looked the most – I don’t know what – most glamorous? Funny what you remember…


It seems questionable now that I was the driver, not the advisor, but maybe it was my family’s car. I recall that he asked me if I was getting a good enough grip as I tried out one of my positions, and showed me a better one, so perhaps he was regretting that I was the driver!


But why I bring this up is that it was on that retreat that I first learned the value of silence, because it helped me make what was the most important decision of my life up until then. And because of how it happened, I knew deep-down that it was the right decision for me. I’ve courted that sense ever since.


It was at night. The weather was mild and we were sitting out on the beach, scattered, some of us lying down, looking up at the stars. One of the adults along as a chaperone was a Quaker, the father of one of the girls in our Presbyterian youth group. He began talking about why he was a Quaker and about silent meetings for worship. I’d never been to one. Perhaps he invited us to be silent along with him. Or maybe his voice just trailed off…


Of course, there was the sound of the surf, and maybe there was a breeze, and I don’t recall if he suggested that we wordlessly ask of the vast, silent, starry silence whatever question was looming for us then, or whether I just settled into the silence and found myself answering the question:  where will I go to college? However, it happened, I came to know the answer.


That decision was grounded.


Like most people, there have been times in my life when I felt shaken off course and scared, scared that my path had disappeared because a decision along its way was faulty, fault-ridden, or failing me.


At one of those shaken, desperate-feeling times, I remember looking back and realizing to my surprise that the ground on which I’d stood when I’d made that now-shaky-feeling decision was the same ground on which I’d stood when I accepted a sense of calling to become a minister, made good job choices, decided to marry, decided where to move after college, and yes, even though I was only 17 at the time, when I knew for sure what college to attend.


The ground on which I stand, on which we stand, is solid, even if I, if we, feel shaken.  Even if a decision needs to be undone, for whatever reason, the ground on which I stand is still solid. Paul Tillich, the 20th century Protestant theologian, whose systematic theology I could never get my head around, called it “the ground of our being” – his notion of God. Now I think I understand. Others call it “being held by the universe.” Or a “sense of rightness.”


And I first knew that I knew it on the beach in silence.


I was lucky then. Sometimes, as Pico Iyer said in the Reading this morning, “We have to earn silence, to work for it:  to make it not an absence but a presence:  not emptiness but repletion.” Usually, for me, and most of us, I think, it takes effort to “fall silent” and to quiet our chattering selves – which the Zen Buddhists call our “monkey minds” – but in this busy season, or in any season, it is worth the effort to cultivate it. Even if only for a floating instant, it can ground us.


In a moment, I’d like to invite you into a time of shared silence for about five minutes.


If I invite you into silence in our worship service, I try to be intentional about the invitation.


I might say, “let us join our hearts and minds together…” to evoke a sense of wholeness—that the upcoming activity is for both heart and mind. It’s not just for thinking, nor is it just for feeling. It’s an invitation to become soulful in these moments, to find a deep place within you, a place of both heart and mind, where you know joy and sorrow, a place that connects you with that deep place in others. 


I might invite you into “a time of prayer, meditation, or reflection” to suggest that you might pray during this time or you might meditate, or reflect, brood or muse. It’s up to you.


Sometimes my invocation is “Oh, spirit of life and of love/Oh, God” or it may be “Let us now dwell in the light of love within us.” Or simply, “Let us pray.” I want to give you a variety of possible entry points into the time of silence.


So, please sit comfortably in your chair.  It is said to be good to uncross your legs and let both feet rest on the floor. To let your hands relax in your lap – some people like to clasp them, or let them rest palm up in invitation, or just let them be. Close your eyes if you like, it helps. Take several deep, cleansing breaths. In and out. In and out.


Then breathe more naturally, in and out, and follow your breath as it enters your body, through nose or mouth, causes your chest and belly to rise and fall.


If you are distracted by sounds around you or thoughts you don’t wish to pursue, let them go gently, and return your attention to your breathing, and then fall silent again into that highest place of all.


May we give a gift of shared silence to one another in these next few minutes. May we find a stillness here among us, of the spirit of life and of love, the holy spirit of justice and compassion. May we find it here in the quiet breathing, taking in atoms of air that have been elsewhere, everywhere, time before time, making us one with all that is and ever was or will be…


Let all be silent.…






I invite you now to find in your gray hymnals #391, Voice Still and Small, and to remain seated for singing it. Three times through.


Voice still and small, deep inside all, I hear you call, singing.

In storm and rain, sorrow and pain, still we’ll remain singing.

Calming my fears, quenching my tears, through all the years, singing. 

                                                                        (words and music by John Corrado).




Closing Words

If you encounter crazy-busyness in these next few weeks, pause and allow yourself to find a stillness and the essence. There you will find true harmony.


And, if you find yourself alone and lonely, or in a crowd harried and lonely, pause and allow yourself to fall into silence. Hear the voice, still and small, deep inside all, singing… for you.


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