"Calm at Sunset"
-At the Desert Retreat House-
It's always pretty quiet out here in the desert where I live; but at this time of the year the quiet turns into silence - sometimes profound silence. With triple digit daytime temperatures, it's too hot for tourists to visit - just a few if any hikers, no bicycles, not even the sound of passing cars for the most part.
Last night I realized that there is one particular time of day when the silence becomes more pronounced than ever. Just after the sun sets when the afternoon winds subside, and there is a total calm in the air, the birds go to sleep for the night, there is a hint of stars in the desert sky, the silence is so profound that it almost borders on being frightening.
There was a time in my life where I would have done almost anything to avoid silence - I was so afraid of it. I needed constant sounds to make me feel comfortable. I would walk into a room and rush to turn on a radio, a stereo, a TV set. And I always needed words, always swimming in an ocean of words so that my mind could be constantly occupied, fooling myself into believing that I had answers and that I was in control.
But now I embrace the silence. The silence at sunset on a summer's night in the desert is so very "pregnant" for me - so filled with an abundant sense of Presence. The silence of the desert calls me to a precipice where I lose my footing and tumble into a chasm - pulled off my perch in that comfortable world of glib words and quick answers, where with utter abandon I fall into the arms of "God."
Last night as the sun set and I entered into that zone of pregnant silence, I was well aware that there was a ringing in my ears. When I first moved out here I would hear that sound of ringing in my ears and thought something was wrong with me, so I went to have my hearing tested and discovered that my hearing was just fine and that people often hear a ringing sound in a place like a desert where the only sound is silence.
As the sun went down last night I remembered something I had read in the poet Richard Rodriguez' book, Darling:A Spiritual Autobiography. In an effort to be more deeply in touch with his own Christian roots, Rodriguez made a trip to the Holy Land and one day he wound up deep inside the stark Judean wilderness just outside of Gaza accompanied by his Bedoin guide, Haim:
Abruptly Haim tells me to stop.
'Listen! The desert has a silence like no other,' he says.
'Do you hear the ringing in your ear? It is the bell of existence.'
When I first read this passage I totally "got it." This is exactly what I hear in the pregnant silence of a calm desert at sunset. I hear the sound of existence. I am "at one with" all that exists and the sound that rings in my ear is the bell of life.
As I see it, you don't have to live in a desert to hear the sound of a pregnant silence. There is way too much noise in the ordinary world of everyday living -too many loud sounds and way too many words. But anyone can turn off the iTunes, shut off the TV, close down all the words, and walk into a quiet room, find a bench in a local park, maybe even sit in a silent church or temple and
Listen for the bell of existence ringing in your ear.