The holiday season finally caught up with us, and over the past few days, we’ve been meeting ourselves coming. But even with the quickening pace, I’m doubling down on the final days of Advent waiting. What more can we do to prepare for Christmastide? What more can we do to prepare our hearts for our King’s return? That’s what I want to talk about this week.
One of my favorite moments each day happens before I even change out of my pajamas. After feeding the dog and pouring myself a cup of coffee, I sit down with my Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Within in first two pages of the daily office, I recite the confession of sin, asking the Lord to forgive me for the things I have left undone that I ought to have done and the things I’ve done which I ought not to have done. And then comes my favorite part—this simple prayer of release:
Grant to your faithful people, merciful Lord, pardon and peace; that we may be cleansed from all our sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We know our world is a noisy place. According to acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, true silence hardly exists at all anymore. During his years of researching sound, he’s developed a “list of the last great quiet places,” which he defines as a place with a noise-free interval of only 15 minutes during daylight hours.
“At last count, here in the United States, there were only 12. None of them are protected,” Hempton says.
But in his study of noise and sound, Hempton has found that there is a difference between quiet and silence. Quiet is “not the absence of sound,” he says. Rather, he talks about quiet as the absence of the sounds of modern life, which typically can be found in nature’s wild habitats.
I’ve found the same thing to be true in my own experiences in the woods or the prairie, places I often go to quiet my spirit. It’s definitely not silent. The birds are singing and the squirrels are squeaking. The wind rustles through the tall grasses, and the river gurgles over the rocks. But even though it’s not silent, it’s quiet. Away from the noises of modern life, I begin to hear again—with my ears, but also with my heart and my mind.
I think this sense of quiet was what the author of the carol “Silent Night” had in mind. Of course the world wasn’t completely quiet that night. Bethlehem was no doubt humming, more crowded than usual with visitors piling in for the census. Even in the nearby fields, there were probably sheep and other livestock baaing and braying, with their shepherds and herders talking quietly. But over the hum of human and animal life, a heavenly peace had settled over them that night, a Peace swaddled in a blanket and lying in a manger. And the noise and chaos of sin had given way to an unexpected calm, brought to earth by love's pure Light.
As our lives grow noisier over the next few days, filled with parties and family visits and all the trappings of a busy holiday season, may you find a patch of unexpected calm for yourself, away from the sounds of modern life, where you can quiet your heart and mind before the Lord.
I wonder … how do you quiet yourself in a noisy world? Do you have a place where you block out the sounds of modern life? And this: what are the benefits of a quiet mind?
As we enter the final few days of Advent, the O Antiphon prayers offer a final appeal to our coming King to help us prepare ourselves for his arrival. According to the Church of England, the O Antiphons “are addressed to God, calling for him to come as teacher and deliverer, with a tapestry of scriptural titles and pictures that describe his saving work in Christ.” I’ve included the prayers and a Scripture passage for your daily meditation over the next few days.
December 17 - O Sapientia: O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. (Ecclesiastes 24:3)
December 18 - O Adonai: O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. (Exodus 3:2; 24:12)
December 19 - O Radix Jesse: O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer. (Isaiah 11:10; 45:14; 52:15; Romans 15:12)
December 20 - O Clavis David: O Key of David and scepter of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. (Isaiah 22:22; 42:7)
December 21 - O Oriens: O Morning Star, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. (Malachi 4.2)
December 22 - O Rex Gentium: O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay. (Isaiah 28:16; Ephesians 2:14)
December 23 - O Emmanuel: O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God. (Isaiah 7:14)
For Further Reflection
The great Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, is based on the O Antiphons of Advent. I love this version from New Zealand singer and recording artist Anna Hawkins, filmed in Israel and sung in both Hebrew & English.
In The Case for Silence, author Luke Burgis considers how society might be different if people stopped clamoring for more noise in their lives and instead took Blaise Pascal’s advice to “sit quietly in a room alone.”
Well, you’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report. This will be my last newsletter of the year, and I want to end this year by sincerely thanking you for sticking with me over the past several months! It’s a privilege to share this space with you and to enter into these conversations together. I look forward to doing more of the same in 2023!
As always, if you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. I can’t always respond quickly, but I always respond.
Until next time,
Absolutely love your reflection on silence, and how you map this onto Silent Night and have us imagine the soundscape at Bethlehem. Beautiful!