Marietta First United Methodist Church

‘Silent’ is Simply ‘Listen with the Letters Re-Ordered

By Rev. Lori Ethridge
Minister to Senior Adults

On Saturday, I attended a silent retreat at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur. Well, it was not totally silent, as the program centered around the work of Dr. Howard Thurman. We listened to recordings of meditations, or inspirational prose, read by the late by Dr. Thurman. Following each recording we were asked to maintain a period of silence, either to journal, to walk a labyrinth, or simply to sit quietly. I chose to sit quietly at every opportunity.  Dr. Thurman was a Christian contemplative, Director of Religious Life at Morehouse College, mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., author of over twenty books, founder of one of the first racially integrated churches in the country (Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco in the 1940s) and an academic dean at both Howard University and Boston University during his distinguished career. His writings were the basis of one of my favorite courses in seminary. It was delightful to re-visit them, as I began the Lenten journey.

In spite of being an extrovert, typically I do not have a problem with silence. In fact I relish times to sit quietly and to meditate or to pray. However, I found one exercise particularly challenging. There were roughly forty participants, and we ate lunch together in a large dining hall, in silence. However, our collective meal was anything but silent; we human beings make a lot of noise! The first, almost deafening, sound I became aware of was the scraping of chairs across the tile floor as folks seated themselves, then there was the rustling of potato chip bags, and the popping open of soft drink cans. I stood “the silence” as long as I could, before going outside to eat my apple; I could not bear to listen to thirty-nine others eating their apples. Once
outside, I was comforted, yet intensely more aware of the sounds I encountered there…squeals of children playing in the distance, a plane passing overhead, and of course, birds chirping, as it was a lovely spring day. How do you experience, “the silence”? What do you listen for? In your spiritual practice how do you cultivate selective hearing, so that your attention is drawn to the Divine? Pray tell; I’m all ears!