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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1 Response to Silence

  1. Jeannine Uzel says:

    Ah, the ability to listen to others (not so common in our bombastic world of extroverts!) and to tune into your inner most thoughts is an amazing combination. As I have shared with previous GOTHs, you are wonderful at introspection yet seek to serve the world with your actions and faithful service to others. What a wonderful, blessed combination! As an aside, I would probably flunk a silent retreat- they would find me singing in the woods somewhere- much as Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music!

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