“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as the storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” ~ Norton Juster
Each morning our home is probably similar to most others with two teenagers and two adults hurrying to get ready for school and work. We bustle about trying to take showers, get dressed, gather our backpacks, and grab something to eat. As the first to rise, my dear husband presents himself as the “joy bomb” to wake us with his unique, and rather loud, brand of sunshine. This includes worship music playing from the Bluetooth speaker, his voice piping out rousing encouragement, and the occasional singing of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!” (Have mercy.)
Most days I don’t have to leave as early as my husband and sons. I still rise to help get the boys out the door. I put on a cheerful face and move them forward until they finally drive away. Usually before they’ve left the cul-de-sac, I’ve already poured a mug of coffee and settled into my favorite chair. The television is off; the Bluetooth is silent. Even our dog and cat respect this moment, and they curl up for their first naps of the day. Years ago my husband forgot his computer bag. Only minutes after departing, he walked back into the house to find me sitting in a dim, silent room, sipping my coffee. “Is this what you do when we leave?” he asked.
The quiet that comes after their departure is like the calm after a storm, and it is pure bliss to me. I settle in, and I settle down. This quiet is a spacious place where I exhale only to realize I had been holding my breath. It is a peaceful place where the frenzy falls away. It is a holy place where I take notice of God’s presence, draw near, and rest in him. “Be still and know that I am God,” he whispers, and I respond with a hushed, “yes.” Henri Nouwen believed that during such quiet moments “we are most open to hear the still, small voice of God speak a personal word of hope and blessing to us in our heightened listening.” He explained,
“Silence is the royal road to spiritual formation.”
This holy hush is a gift however and whenever it comes. Sometimes it’s anticipated, like my morning respites. Other times the quiet surprises me, catching me off guard. Just today I walked out the doors of the middle school where I teach, and I was stopped in my tracks by the silence. The busy, noisy hallway gave way to a cloudy, gray sky. The children’s voices were immediately hushed. I stood there on the asphalt, looking around like a disoriented traveler.
In the quiet, I took in the gathering clouds and the promise of an afternoon storm. I noticed the leaves filling branches that had been bare only weeks ago. I felt the wind caress my cheek as it blew the storm ever nearer. I stood and breathed in the quiet, as sweet as the fresh air and as refreshing as the coming drops of rain. “Be still and know,” God reminded me in the quiet. “Yes,” my heart agreed.
As precious as this quiet was, I was aware of how many times I hurry out these doors without pausing to take notice. In my hurry from one thing to the next, I rarely notice the quiet and receive its blessing. However, I’m learning to pay attention.
In my car I’m learning to turn off the radio chatter and tune into the silence. Without the distraction, I notice the mountains and hills bursting into song, and the trees clapping their hands (Isaiah 55:12). I worship to the music of redbuds, dogwoods, and cherry trees. In my classroom I am paying attention to the rare moments when all of my students are focused on an assignment, quietly working. As I scan their faces, intent on their task, I’m reminded of my high and holy calling. During weekly yoga classes, I settle into the serene space and listen to my breath as I inhale and exhale with intention. “Fearfully and wonderfully made,” I think, as my body moves from pose to pose.
Each afternoon when I let our dog into the backyard, I pause and listen. In a few seconds, the quiet dissipates, and I am aware of the symphony filling the air. Our trees, now thick with leaves, boast branches filled with feathery friends. Their joy regarding the return of spring is proclaimed in song, and one particular bird flirts with me, calling out, “Pur-tee, pur-tee.” “Thank you,” I say with a grin. My whimsical God woos me through their song.
In the evenings a tender silence settles over our home, leaving the last words spoken hanging in the air. Most nights it’s the sweet refrain, “I love you,” echoing in the quiet. Once lamps are dimmed, these words fill the dark and permeate the quiet of night. Spacious, peaceful, holy…I settle into this quiet, a bookend to my day, and agree once again with his invitation: “Be still and know that I am God.” In the quiet of night, I rest in him and whisper, “yes.”
* To me, artist Andrew Wyeth captures the stunning beauty of quiet moments like none other.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.