“The present state of the world, the whole of life, is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I would reply, “Create silence! Bring men to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. Create silence.”
My husband and my Lord, in company with the kindest of house-sitters, have conspired to give me an inestimable gift: a month on my beloved jewel of an island. A whole month to write and read and work and dream; to recover a bit from an intense season and recalibrate my inner compass. A month of quiet. We’re ensconced in our Silver Girl under a canopy of moss-clad trees, a brisk little bike ride from our favorite beach on earth. The bookshelf is crammed with carefully selected titles (both new friends and old loves), the galley is stuffed with comestibles, and my dear Brown Betty teapot is on constant duty. We both have clearly marked goals for this time, Philip and I, ambitions towards which want to point this arrow of golden hours. And when the day’s work is done (or when one needs an occasional day-dreamy pause), there are inexhaustible beauties upon which to feast the eyes and the soul: vistas of endless marshland, ever a-teem with the changing life of the tides; sunsets that spill over this green land like an upturned cup of golden wine; long, grey colonnades of live oaks, whose ancient boughs bear the graveclothes of Spanish moss and the mystic, living parable of resurrection fern.
And, of course, and always—the sea.
Bonnie Blue, for one, has definitively made up her mind to be a sea dog. We taught her to swim in the ocean back in May, and at first sight of it last week she took off at a gallop, leaping and yipping for joy. Her exuberance is contagious, rekindling a childlike sense of play that reminds me who I am in a most elemental sense: a child of God. “The sea is a fountain of youth,” said Peter Kreeft with characteristic incision. “Only the child within us can hear the music of the sea.” I heard it the other night as I’ve not heard it in ages, having been lured by Bonnie into a moonlit swim. Picture this: a radiant moonrise in a sapphire sky, scattering the sea with diamonds and turning the sand to silver. Not a sound in the world but the wind and the waves and the music of our own laughter, while beyond that enchanted space of shining water, a darkness and silence so deep it seemed to hold us suspended in time. And in the midst of all that magic, Bonnie Blue bounding and swimming between us like a deliriously happy otter. I’m telling you, there’s little generosity in the world equal to that of a dog sharing it’s own joy. Our Bonnie’s been extravagant with hers, and we’re utterly delighted. And so very grateful.
So, my goal this month is to finish the first draft of my novel, a project I mention to just about everyone I meet as a means of slaying self-consciousness and creating an ever-widening circle of accountability (into which I welcome each one of you). I confess, It’s been a difficult shock the past couple of years to realize that this writing life doesn’t get easier, but harder. I feel like everything I’ve written of late has been wrung out of a great travail—and that it shows. My words feel clunky, ill-fitting. It’s been months since I’ve penned anything I was remotely pleased with, much less anything that’s come without strain; so thickly has the fog settled into the creative spaces of my heart that I’m sorely tempted to doubt those spaces exist at all. I’ve wondered in my darker moments if I’ve said everything I had to say. I’ve wrestled off the bête noire hissing between my ears that I’ve never had anything to say in the first place.
I’ve sought my Hidden Spring—and found it dry.
Before we came down here, I spent some time reflecting in my journal about what I was seeking in this time by the sea, what I was hoping not only to accomplish, but to recover. I was reminded of Thomas Kelly’s “recreating silences,” those deep places of transfigured life from which all true creativity emerges. I remembered the solemn charge of Kierkegaard to create silence: prize it, fight for it, win it at any cost to reputation or image or so-called productivity. He doesn’t say to seek it—he says to make it, as solemnly and faithfully as one might make any work of true art. I decided then and there that I was going to make silence a part of my life here this month in way that I’ve never done before. And unprecedented experiment in quiet.
Accordingly, I seized the first opportunity after we arrived to take an early bike ride to the shore. The sky was a mounting castle-scape of clouds, pillared and turreted, dark and light broken by serene patches of blue, and when the newly risen sun broke between them, it turned the sea below to a sheet of molten gold. It was all so arrestingly, awesomely beautiful, I couldn’t help but think it was the kind of morning on which Christ might return. I propped my bike against a washed up piling, spread my blanket on the hard-packed sand, and commenced to “sit and stare:” to my left, the sea and all that glory of light and shadow; to my right, a startlingly green stand of pines; and before me, the full vista of the beach, a primal forest of twisted tree forms the sea has claimed, the wind has writhed into fantastical shapes, and the sun has whitened to a bleached silvery grey.
I was determined to sit for one hour remembering what silence sounded like, keen to the life around me without contributing any of my own noise—even mental noise, which can be of the very worst sort. Ten minutes in, however, it started to drizzle. I smiled, feeling very philosophical over my imperviousness to a little shower. Then it started to rain, and I tucked my Bible and my phone up under my legs as a precaution. Then it started to pour, and I was tempted to flee, but for the fact of the aforementioned Bible and phone. So, I sat still, gently opening all my senses to what it meant to be caught in a rainstorm on the beach. I savored the icy little drops, stinging my soul and body awake. I noticed the clean-washed scent of rain, mingled with the salt of the sea that summoned a nostalgia I could hardly name. I paid close heed to the way the rain turned the sea and the sky to a misty, uniform grey, and how a sudden rift in the roiling clouds would ignite the bare trees down the beach like the gilding of a fairy’s wand.
I shared the beach with one solitary gull who stood at the water’s edge looking out to sea as if seeing something my eyes weren’t trained for, and a scuttling ghost crab who seemed utterly unmindful of the weather. And as I cycled back down the beach after both the storm and my hour had passed, I was accompanied by four magnificent ospreys, lighting on and wheeling from the heights of dead trees, just exactly as if we were all part of some solemn, silent procession.
I remembered, then, in that wordless place, what the child inside of me has always known: namely, that it’s not so much an excess of care that contributes to a meager inner life, as an absence of prayer and deep, silent communion with God. Inquiring quietly of my own heart, I realized that not only has it been months since I’ve had any real joy in writing, it’s been months since I’ve had any real delight in God’s presence. My prayers have less been conversations and more emergency requests. But one cannot dwell in emergency; resources are exhausted and reserves run dry. And, of course, in that light, I could see the obvious: the Hidden Spring wasn’t dry—it was choked. Those same unavoidable realities of human life that threatened the good seed in the parable of the sower can clog up the deep source from which our Living Water is drawn.
To be soothed down into stillness once more has become the theme of this month for me. To think of one thing at a time, and not twenty-five (how muddled I’ve become with too many words and too many cares!), to let silence and beauty and the Word of God have their ancient work on me—these are the great ambitions of my heart. I still have every intention of finishing my novel. But nothing is more important than recovering that innocence of intimacy with God that’s been buried under a mound of pragmatic, dutiful doing.
I will hear what The Lord God is saying: for He will speak peace to His people, and to His saints: only let them not return to folly.
It’s nothing short of folly to pound away after a vocation without drawing from the wells of salvation. How sweetly He reminds us, though, wooing our souls by every means–from the effortless flight of a bird, to the love song of the sea, to the stormy hunger in our own hearts.
The sea heals us by helping us learn to listen…silence is requisite.