The silence before our eyes…
… and the silence that lies underneath.
I made sure to tell everyone right when I got there so they didn’t freak out. Like if they saw me standing in the middle of a crowd, music blaring and prayers screaming, and I was just standing there, taking it in, silent in the middle of it all. Or if they were wondering why I would be singing my heart out one second and then hushed and still the next. I was just… listening. That’s why it was important for everyone to know that I came right out of a five day silent retreat in Palos Verdes with my 17 seminary classmates, right into three days at Steubenville San Diego with 5,000 screaming teens.
I didn’t, you know, want to weird anybody out. Because, you see, there was a lot to hear down in San Diego: impassioned talks, music on fire, crying and weeping, laughing and shouting during Adoration. But I’ve got to say, I think I heard just as much during the days before, when there was pretty much nothing to hear on retreat (that is, other than the peacocks singing, or screaming, or whatever it is they do, at 4 AM). All throughout my prayer last week, certain scripture passages kept coming up, like Psalm 29 and God’s thundering voice that shatters the trees and shakes the deserts, and Isaiah 55 and God’s word that will never return to Him empty. There’s just something about the silence, when nothing else that can be heard with our ears can get in the way of what God speaks to our soul.
One of the best ways to talk about the silence (which is really futile in the end, but we can try any way) is to say it was intoxicating. Seriously, we were in no rush to be anywhere on our retreat, so we had all the time of the day to take in what God had been putting in front of our faces and we had been ignoring. On the surface it was the sheer beauty of creation, which is so easy to ignore because it’s filtered by our busy schedules and distracted minds. I saw things that I would never have seen until I just slowed down and had nowhere else to be. Like my classmate who stopped and watched a spider weave its web for five minutes. Funny enough, I just stood and watched a squirrel eat a nut for five minutes myself. Those very simple joys almost became the highlights of our days; those moments when everything became a prayer: every bite of food, every unlocking of a door, every moment we wish we could express our joy to one another but knew we could not break silence. Everything was so clearly a gift from God. The silence was intoxicating.
And then I walked right into that arena at Steubenville San Diego and I paused, a little overwhelmed. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. Actually, having learned that every little moment was just charged with God wanting me to know He was there, that He loves me, that He loves us, knowing that He indeed can be found in every single moment, especially when with 5,000 teens we were screaming and singing our hearts out, confessing our brokenness, but also God’s glory and God’s mercy. And in the midst of all of that, knowing that somehow, not drowned out by the sound of it all, but hidden and powerfully driving it all, the silence of God was the real language of it all. That’s why we could go silent in the middle of our favorite songs, and just take it in; why we could hear in the sobbing and joy of Adoration the quiet, but strong embrace of Christ; why sometimes, when we come back home from these things, there are no words to describe just how it is that God has just shattered our hearts. Sometimes, God only speaks without words, and we have to settle for the same.
Amidst our drunkenness of the silence on retreat, I walked out of my room early one morning, having heard some rain just outside my window. The ground was dry, but I knew I was hearing raindrops. I walked out a little further, to find it was only wet under the trees: the fog was so thick and the trees so damp, it was as if the trees were raining, or crying if you will. In my feeble attempt to put to words what could only express its beauty in silence, I wrote this short poem:
The trees are weeping for the beauty of it all
Standing tall, they have watched over us at night
Yet, in the morning, we are woken by their tears
For the Lord comes in the silence, to bring dawn’s hidden light.
No it was not quiet when we got to San Diego, but God was still speaking as loudly as ever. And as if it’s not confusing enough to try and put into words what only makes sense in the stillness of our quiet moments with God, I’m pretty sure I learned almost as much about being silent in the excitable joy and madness that was Steubenville San Diego, as I did on silent retreat on the summit and in the clouds of Palos Verdes. I’m also pretty sure the trees still would have wept for the beauty of it all.