A few weeks ago, our family took a vacation in the country.
That first night, both Jeanne and I woke up around 3 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. We didn’t have a clue as to why. Then I asked a question to my wife: “Can you hear anything, anything at all?” Except for our voices, there was no sound. It was silent.
We were quite a distance from the highway. The sound of traffic was absent. Not even the engine of a single vehicle could be heard.
There were no thunderous rumblings from aircraft overhead.
The Strait of Jean de Fuca was miles away so we couldn’t hear waves upon the shore, or the horns of aids to navigation or cargo ships.
The weather was mild. There was no rain. There wasn’t even a breeze, to rustle leaves on the trees.
There were no dogs barking in the distance. Even the coyotes and owls seemed to have taken a vacation.
There were also no sounds from within the house, like the tick-tock of a clock, or the periodic drip from a faucet in the bathroom. The master bedroom and kitchen were at opposite ends of the house, so there was no white-noise humming from an appliance or the sudden, dumping clunk from the ice maker in the refrigerator.
We were not sleeping because it was too quiet. The sound of silence was so unfamiliar. It was surprisingly unsettling — took us three nights to finally get used to it and get a good night’s sleep. By the end of our stay, we grew to appreciate the odd sensation.
This year will be the 200th anniversary of arguably the world’s most famous Christmas carol. It was first publicly presented by collaborators Joseph Mohr and Franz Xavier Gruber on Dec. 24, 1818, in Oberndorf, near Salzburg, Austria. The name of the hymn is Silent Night. It was and is a song of peace.
I believe that silence is a rare thing nowadays. If we are fortunate enough to find silence, it has the capacity to help us reflect deeply — upon where we may find ourselves in life and the condition of the world around us.
I wish we could all experience silence like this. It does bring peace. So, when we once again enter the noise made by divisiveness, hatred, and anger, we may acknowledge that it doesn’t have to be this way and perhaps even do something about it.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for 30 years.