LIVING AS APPRENTICES
Audio ecologist Gordon Hempton is a global explorer and collector of natural sound. He’s recorded the soundscapes of prairies, shorelines, mountains, and forests around the world. In recent years, he’s become a silence activist. He defines silence not as an absence but a presence. A quiet place, he says, is “the think tank of the soul.” *
Hempton reminds us that “not too long ago, it was assumed that clean water is not important, but now it is and we’re cleaning that up. [And] seeing the stars was not that important, [but now is.] And now I think we’re realizing quiet is important and we need silence, that silence is not a luxury, but it’s essential. It’s essential to our quality of life and being able just to think straight.”
I have learned to love silence – no talking, no media, no buzzing, dinging or flashing of technology. (I just heard that there is a new app that turns off all of our technology on schedule so that we remember to pause and breathe!) Experiencing silence as a “presence” not an “absence” takes years of training and cultivation. However, we all can learn to enjoy silence as a “place” where we are safe to mull over and turn over and contemplate our thoughts, old and new, with only the Holy Spirit as a witness or collaborator. I have come to name this place “prayer.” We need silence to feed and support and, perhaps even, change our agendas. If we run the treadmill of life without being led beside still waters or being made to lie in green pastures, our effectiveness will decrease and the ethical standards informing those agendas might melt away.
Hempton points out that listening in the presence of the quiet is helpful in human interactions as well:
I highly recommend that if a person wants to increase their ability to understand another person that they start out listening to nature because you’re totally uninvested in the outcome of nature. You can just take it all in, all the expressions. . . . So there’s a lot of joy in that listening, and when we become better listeners to nature, we also become better listeners to each other so that, when another person is speaking with you, you don’t have to search for what you want them to say. You can dare to risk [hearing] what they really are trying to say and ask them too: Is this really what you mean?
Gordon Hempton has spent years distinguishing the tones of varieties of prairie grass, recording the sound within driftwood logs, and comparing deep textures in the sounds of insects and frogs to the folk music of the area in which they live. He teaches us that living in the presence of quiet is important not only for co-existing in the natural world, but also f0r living in a collaborative and synergistic relationship with the Triune God.
*Hempton’s remarks are from an interview with Krista Tippet on the program On Being