The Silence by Wendell Berry


Though the air is full of singing

my head is loud

with the labor of words.


Though the season is rich

with fruit, my tongue

hungers for the sweet of speech.


Though the beech is golden

I cannot stand beside it

mute, but must say


‘It is golden,’ while the leaves

stir and fall with a sound

that is not a name.


It is in the silence

that my hope is, and my aim.

A song whose lines


I cannot make or sing

sounds men’s silence

like a root. Let me say


and not mourn: the world

lives in the death of speech

and sings there.




This weekend, our program went on a silent retreat. A variety of people were also on retreat at the Emery house, but we did not speak to them: we even ate meals together in silence. Well, it was never really silent: the wind storm was strong all weekend, so we reflected to the sound of trees, and our meals were accompanied by music. A friend of a friend currently pursuing a degree in silence travels around the world collecting VR scenes and sounds of silence. They define silence as not the absence of noise, but the absence of human voices.


One of the brothers at the Emery house offered the framework that there are two forms of silence: external and internal. On a personal level, the external involves not speaking, and not surrounding yourself with synthetic noise and distraction- but this is still not the absolute lack of noise, and can actually make you more in tune to the noises occuring around you. Internal silence is far more difficult to me: it involves the quieting of your thoughts. This internal silence affects your relationship to external noises, and hypothetically could be achieved in a crowded place. But even in calm spaces, I struggle to quiet my mind (and soul?)- as Wendell Barry states, “my head is loud with the labor of words.”  Also the labor of memories, images, current physical and emotional sensations… the barriers to internal silence seem endless.


Centering Prayer is one practice of silence we attempted this weekend. In this form of prayer you acknowledge that you will face external and internal noise, but you try not to either hold on to them or push them away. You let them be and you let them pass. Which is hard.


Moving forward from this experience with silence, I’d like to make space in my routine for both external and internal silence, with the hope of being able to carry a grounded stillness with me, wherever I am. But I don’t want to only pursue detachment from the world: I hope to be able to hone my ability to listen- to myself, to others, and to God. As Mary Oliver states in this poem, I hope to “create a silence in which another voice may speak”–even my own voice which I can tend to overlook.

Praying by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.




-Sara Golden (wrote the blog, not the poems!)

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In the desert

By Carly Reiner

Over the weekend the Grace-on-the-Hill interns retreated to a monastery in Boston to rest and reflect and learn a little bit about the contemplative lifestyle. Immediately upon arrival I was overcome with a sense of rest and a desire to put my phone away and just be with myself and with God. So rarely do we make time to just be. So rarely do we rid ourselves of the constant distractions of our daily lives in order to turn inward and wrestle with the things turning within our hearts and souls.

Our days consisted of prayer three times a day and the rest of the time was left up to us- to be in silence, to read, to pray, to go for walks, etc. At first this was very peaceful and relaxing, but the more time I spent reflecting internally the more restless and anxious I became. The more time I had to think and pray about the things that were actually bothering me or worrying me. I thought about St. Anthony, who journeyed out into the deserts of Egypt to escape the noise and distractions of life in the city in order to have a deeper communion with God. Once in the desert he found that the true distractions were not coming from the things around him but rather within his own soul. It was in the desert that he was able to encounter his demons and deal with them. After wrestling with the demons in his heart and finding that the true peace comes from within, he was able to return to the city and bring that peace to others. It wasn’t about the physical distractions around him, but about the internal distractions that were blocking him from communion with God. It took intentional retreat from everyday life to recognize those deeper things and to remember who he was: a child of God and a vessel for the light of Christ to shine through. It took intentional and physical retreat for me to realize that there were things deep in my heart causing me anxiety, things I had yet to hand over to God.

Sometimes we need to slow down, to stop, to be still, to turn inward and gaze upon the things in our hearts that are keeping us from a deepened relationship with God. Once we do, we may find that we can navigate the ups and downs of life with a transcendent peace and joy in our hearts that is untouched by the things of this world. I hope to continue to make time in my daily life to retreat and be still.. to be silent before God and allow her to reveal to me my inner demons so that I can acknowledge them, hand them over, and live each day in deeper communion with the Holy and Living God.


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By Carly Reiner

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Matthew 16:24

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a disciple and to deny myself. When I read this verse it doesn’t exactly sit well. Self-denial and cross bearing doesn’t seem like something I want to dive into. You don’t see too many sermons preached on this verse…maybe because it seems painful and maybe because there aren’t necessarily practical guidelines on how to do this. Our society today is not one that values self-denial, but rather self-indulgence. We value strength, security, and power. In this broken system, we create illusions that blind us to the things that are truly life-giving. Self-denial can sound like a negative thing, something that breaks us down or is self-deprecating, refraining from things that bring us “pleasure”. However, I don’t think that’s what Jesus means when he talks about dying to self.

Jesus asks us to lose our lives in a much different way, in a way that exposes the truth about the way things really are. We are not dying to the self that God created us to be, but rather the self that the world has molded us into and the sin that has corrupted our very nature. It requires shedding light on the things that we have been depending on or placing value in that do not give us life or further God’s Kingdom. We must put to death the things that breed our selfishness, our images of power, our desire to be right, our quickness to seek revenge, our tendency to put up walls between ourselves and those who are different from us, our laziness, our materialism, our urge to save our own lives. Shedding light on these things can feel like death and can often look like death to the world around us, but it is through this death that we gain new or resurrected life. Self-denial is a way of letting go of our pursuit to find everlasting joy in earthly things or things that impede our relationship with God. It is another way that God call us to herself, to pursue our deepest joy.

Following Jesus means submitting, accepting our own weakness and powerlessness and allowing God to transform those things through surrendering control of our own lives.

The reality of Christ dying on the cross reveals to us the uselessness of power as the King of the universe came and died the most humiliating death possible in order to serve us…that we may have life. He never said to anyone, “Do you know who I am?” but instead humbled himself so that we might receive redemption. In the same way, through the same process of death and resurrection, we are being sanctified and God is transforming the world.

So..we must wake up every day with humility and with a heart to serve. We can start in the smallest of ways, like cleaning up after someone or helping out a friend or stranger. There are so many things I could do in my daily life to deny my selfish motives and instead serve the people around me. We must open our eyes to any ways we can serve others and try our hardest to put others before ourselves, even the people that aren’t serving or loving us…especially those people. From these acts of service and love, the Kingdom of God will follow and our hearts will begin to be transformed.

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Lenten Poem


By, James

As we begin our journey through Lent towards Easter. I thought I would do something a little bit different. So, I am going to open my heart and share a Lenten poem.


The season has come;

I lay in bed thinking with darkness around me.

What am I going to do this year?

I lay in bed thinking with darkness around me;

I must do something this year.

The season is here.


It is Ash Wednesday; I will figure something out.

I sit in the pew; I hear the words of the Prophet.

I listen to the crushing silence that night.

I know now! I will be a pilgrim.

I will go on pilgrimage.


Not to the Holy City of Jerusalem

Not to Rome.

I will visit the friend I have negated

I will visit my soul.

I will journey the dark downward path to my soul

For God’s sake as well as my own.



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Seeing Your Neighbors

Around my neighborhood many yards have a sign including this phrase in several languages:  “No matter where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” I’m glad. I’m also terribly sad that I myself haven’t made much of an effort to get to know my neighbors, and haven’t had many neighbors approach me either. I do know that the long-term residents complain of the college students, who complain of the long term residents, and very few glad to accept those without homes as “residents” of any sort. I think a lot of people feel they should follow the charge to “love thy neighbor.” I also think it can be easy to limit that to only apply to those most like yourself- exactly the opposite of the message of the good Samaritan parable.

My mom is moving to a new area- not so far in terms of distance, and not an unfamiliar area. But an area that is far less racially diverse than where we had lived. She has grown frustrated with the way the majority white inhabitants of the area refer the the minority hispanic and black inhabitants. After all, if it seems like all your neighbors are like you, eat like you, talk like you, and would never call your word choices insulting, aren’t you being loving to your neighbors? This dynamic is causing her to despair that only isolated pockets of America have been working toward  (certainly not fully realized anywhere) racial reconciliation, rather than “America” as a whole.

There are definitely benefits of a narrow focus on community- any sort of community ties are growing less and less common/prioritized. But even that narrow focus must be inclusive of everyone in it, as well as those bordered by and those affected by it. There  are certainly serious downfalls of prioritizing your narrow interests over others.

As Richmond was developing, black communities grew stronger in numbers and influence, to the point that white communities felt threatened of being overrun. This fear was heightened and capitalized upon by real estate developers, who scared people to sell their properties for cheap to move to “better” areas, then resold these properties at a higher value. Meanwhile, black communities, regardless of their economic status, were rendered “less valuable,” and ultimately a waste of space or a nuisance- the perfect places to bulldoze and add new highways (95, 195) which would cut through the city. This certainly benefitted some pockets of communities, to the serious detriment and destruction of others.

In short, community does need to be valued and cultivated everywhere. But the placement, demographics, and resources of any particular community should not be taken for granted as “just the way things are.” “The way things are” has been intentionally developed (or in some cases intentionally ignored) to become so, and has real effects on the lived experience of others’ communities. But that is often not immediately obvious, even for those honestly invested in loving their neighbors. As Jesus explained in the story of the good Samaritan, your neighbors can be people you are not accustomed to seeing and looking out for.

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“Examening” our lives (short blog)

By, James N. Alexander

As of late I have been attempting to incorporate the Examen into my daily life. For those who do not know the Examen is, it is a mediation on one’s day normally done just before going to sleep. It was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. The prayer calls us to look over the events of the day and see what God is trying to show us. I think the Examen can help when we are recovering from our hectic lives.

There are times when you are going through the Examen and you start to see these points of connection in our lives that God is using to speak to us. When praying feelings of failures may start to bubble up, but that’s not the Examen is for though. It is to bring attention to those events and emotions that we are going through to discern what God is telling us about those events and to have gratitude.

In many of his writings, St. Ignatius tells us to be thankful for our day and to look upon it with gratitude, which is something I can be better at. Being thankful for the good times is easy but showing gratitude in those “dark night of soul” moments can very difficult for a lot of people. I think is that great thing about the Examen. It teaches us to become more aware of God in our lives. The best way to sum up the Examen is simply “finding God in all things”.


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(Belated) Thanksgiving Thoughts

Acts 20:35: In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Yes, we should have an attitude of giving, without focusing so much on what we will receive. But giving and receiving really are tied- we can give selfishly/resentfully just as we can receive poorly. I read an article by Martha Beck (here!) talking about how American culture has become particularly bad at receiving. And “giving thanks” is the literal meaning of thanksgiving- but too often when receiving a gift, we wonder whether we really deserve it, or feel indebted to reciprocate in some way. Receiving becomes about worthiness, and this connects directly to our habits of giving as well- “do they really deserve that, will they reciprocate my generosity?” Whether it’s giving thanks for compliments, life situation, gifts- being unable to honestly say “thank you” means  an inability to fully accept and appreciate. This can even apply as an internal rejection of appreciating oneself, afraid of being too self-centered. Beck argues that “as you teach your own charity to outlast such opinions while giving to other people, you’ll release yourself from having to meet certain criteria (repayment, neediness, poverty) when you are given something.”

She also asserts that this is essential, since “In the long run, we can’t stay emotionally healthy without accepting gifts, both concrete and intangible. Refusing to receive leaves us chronically empty, prone to addiction, obsession, codependency, or an eternal psychological hunger that’s never quite satisfied. The healthy alternative is to stop merely closing down and learn to receive wisely, fully accepting good gifts without being damaged by bad ones”

The hardest gift to accept is grace/mercy- something we definitely don’t deserve. And this is essential to faith: God’s gift of forgiveness acceptance and love toward us. We should model this toward others: Not to copy God, but because it should change us- we are not earning salvation, but rather living into the gift.

It is still important to recognize that “it is more blessed to give than receive”- this was and still is counterintuitive, and a way of countering selfish tendencies. But I personally feel that this message can be skewed too far, to the point we are no longer able to fully appreciate gifts without feeling some sort of guilt or obligation, when really receiving gifts should be an essential component of our lives.

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