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A silent night isn’t easily found

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Tony Perrottet recounts his hike to the floor of Maui’s Haleakala crater, a dormant Hawaiian volcano (“Into the Volcano,” Smithsonian, December 2011) where “... the silence is absolute. Not a breath of wind. No passing insects. No bird songs. Then I thought I detected drumming. I finally realized, it was my own heartbeat, thundering in my ears.”

.364Perrottet reports that acoustic experts who measured the sound levels at the bottom of the crater concluded that they are at “the very threshold of human hearing.”

There is a dearth of silence in our world.

As I write this column from home on a busy street, I hear the sounds of traffic, lawnmowers, leaf blowers and the occasional helicopter from a nearby airbase. That’s not to count the daily scream of the siren, the blast of the train whistle and the roar of the motorcycle.

Even if one lives in rural south Georgia, there is no escape from sound and noise. In our world, music is 100 percent portable, cell phones reach to 96 percent of our nation, laptops can be accessed everywhere and televisions blast out noise and images in beauty salons, restaurants, doctors’ waiting rooms and church hallways, not to mention every room of our house. Then there are radios, pod casts, etc.

We are seldom silent and, although we pay lip service to desiring more solitude, most of us are spooked by silence. I remember standing beside a roadside marker in southern Utah, surveying what seemed like hundreds of miles of slick rock and desert. The sign announced that I was standing in one of the remotest places in the United States. The silence was both liberating and intimidating.

As we draw nearer to Christmas, we find ourselves assaulted by even more sound. Christmas music is everywhere. Some of it is quite inspiring, but the kind we hear while pumping gas or eating at snack bars is usually horrendous. Bells are ringing in various parking lots, cantatas and pageants both sacred and secular are being performed every day and night, and even our Christmas cards now play tinny versions of the Hallelujah Chorus.

I don’t mean to sound like some sourpuss Grinch who hates Christmas. Far from it. My own iPod has dozens of Christmas albums on it, ensuring that I’ll hear “Joy to the World” in jazz, classical, country and pop, and I’ll enjoy great Christmas carols and choirs this year.

But where is the silence that leads us to contemplate the mystery of this season? Can you make space to reflect, to listen, to receive? Can you do so with intention? Phillips Brooks, writing in 1868 (when presumably the world was quieter), wrote these words in stanza 3 of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given, so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming ... but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

.364Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.