Silence is Golden

We are excited to feature a guest post today from Abd Al-Rahman Wally, who is an Engineering student in Egypt. His post invites us all to see the wisdom we can gain by seeking silence in ourselves and our lives.

ما ندمت علي سكوتي يوما و لكن ندمت علي كلامي مرارآ

This is a very common saying here in Egypt, which apparently originated from Roman writer Publilius Syrus’s quote : “I often regret that I have spoken, but never that I have been silent”. Despite its popularity I honestly doubt that anybody actually uses it. Silence has been mistakenly understood as a sign of weakness or ignorance, but I think it’s quite the contrary. Silence has always been a sign of wisdom, and many ancient civilizations have praised silence.

No one, including me, can deny the mysterious aura that surrounds a silent person, but I could not find a trace of this kind of people in modern life, at least around me. I could only find them in novels and history books and when found them there, I was taken by them. I found that these people are often the most respectable and successful. These guys are the ones who come up with the greatest ideas, because silence gives them the time to process things correctly.

So I decided to become more silent. I decided to suspend my eagerness to react immediately towards different situations and instead to wait silently and have patience even in the simplest situations.

When I chose to be silent, I gave myself the opportunity to see life differently, to watch how people act and react with each other during different situations, to notice human interactions.

Now that I am more silent people treat me differently, and I struggle less during conversations. People now tend to ask me about my opinion and invite me to participate. Because after I listened, understood and processed, my opinions now make more sense and carry more weight. When I’m in a group and begin to talk, everybody just stops talking and listens to me, because I’m the silent one, everybody wants to hear from me.

I have also found that when I became silent I actually narrowed the area of mistakes in my communications. As a Muslim, Islam strongly emphasizes the importance of a word, and how people should weigh their words before spilling them. As prophet Mohammed says: “A word can mean the difference between heaven and hell”.

In addition to that, I really started to enjoy life more. In transportation, even with my friends, when I cut the chit-chat and listened to them talking, I discovered more and more about my friends, good things that made me understand them better and more deeply.

I can never forget the one day trip to Fayed, Ismailia. I asked all my friends to just stop chatting for 5 minutes, and just lie there on the grass. Feel the breeze and listen to the whispers of the air running to us across the Suez Canal. 5 minutes passed, another 5, and for 30 minutes we sat there smiling and relaxing.

If you are living in a big noisy city and have ever been to the wild, hiking, camping or whatever, the very first thing that you may have noticed is the silence, the beauteous silence. I find that silence in nature is always connected with beauty, peacefulness and serenity. It is that silence that I try to parallel in my daily life.

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Types of Silence

Today’s guest post come from John Smith, who writes about leadership, learning, and human behavior from St. Louis, Missouri in the Heartland of the United States at his blog The Strategic Learner.  His post today take a conversational look at the types of silences we find in our lives, and what wisdom we may find in each. So, here’s John on types of silence…

When I saw the thought-provoking questions that Searching Sophia’s Pockets provided to help our creative juices flow on the topic of silence, the very first question in the list stumped me completely:

How do you find silence in your daily life?

After a moment, my brain kicked in with a smart-aleck response:

Which silence do you mean?

Is it the quiet of the world in deep night or early morning as the sun prepares to rise?

This is usually a relaxing silence, in that delicious space between sleep and the start of the day. Of course, nature is not really quiet, anyone raised in the country or who has spent much time there knows that even in the stillness of early morning, a soft blanket of background sounds provides a restful soundtrack.

If it is not that silence, then is it the silence of cowering in the dark of the night, when only the sound of your own breathing intrudes?

This dark-time silences scare me to the limits of my soul. I have been terrified to the core of my being, either through the threat of harm or death to myself or someone I deeply care for several times in my life. I have feared the loss of a relationship and my ability to meet the challenges of living. Yet this silence is made of stuff that wakes you in the middle of the night and does not allow for a return to sleep.

Is it the silence of being with someone when no words could make the moment easier or less hurtful?

This is a painful silence, which I have experienced more often in my life than I like to admit. Sometimes the words just run out and all has been said that can be said. You stare at each other across the gulf of past actions and past words and do not know what to do to make things better or right.

Finally my answer hit me. There are two times when I have experienced the power of silence more than any others:

The silence I have experienced while staring into another’s eyes without talking, and the silence during prayer while I await for God’s response.

The first silence is simple, yet powerful. As part of my counselor training many years ago, we regularly engaged in this brief act. The idea was to help us become comfortable honestly and openly with another person. The phrase we used then was “to be present with the other.”

I found this to be one of the most challenging experiences in which I have ever engaged. Without words to affect or distract us, we would gaze into another’s eyes without speaking for several minutes, although the time felt like hours.

The connection is almost tangible, as we see another human being through what we call the “portal to the soul”.

Then there is the silence during prayer—a silence of waiting for God’s response. This is a different silence, an anticipatory silence, where you have shared yourself with God and await a response.

When I was younger, I saw this as waiting for the answer: “Yes”, “No”, or “We’ll See”, just like I used to lay out logical arguments and wait for my parent to decide.

Now I treat prayer more like a conversation with a trusted friend, where secrets are shared, doubts are spoken aloud, and the other’s felt presence is often all that is needed. The silence enfolds and warms me, because I trust the relationship. Maybe God will answer and maybe not, but I will receive what I need through the silence.

So, which silence does Sophia mean? I suppose it depends on which silence you need in your life…

Changing Together

By: Autumn Elizabeth

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I am the change. You are the change too. This point was proven yesterday the the People’s Climate March, which took place all around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people came together, ignored their differences, and marched to make change.

In Paris, where I was marching, the vegans weren’t throwing things at the people wearing leather shoes. Greenpeace wasn’t jostling with the World Wildlife Foundation for the best space. Christian groups weren’t bashing the Atheists.  Everyone coexisted to create change.

This coexistence for change is at the core of my faith and my life. I believe that to create a better world, to create the kin-dom of God here on this earth, in this time, we have to work together. I am not suggesting that my belief is to ignore difference, but rather that I believe we must embrace it and work together anyway.

Being the change also means supporting justice for everyone. Reproductive justice organizations like Planned Parenthood attended the People’s Climate March yesterday, because environmental justice affects reproductive justice. In the same way, men must work to end patriarchy, and white people must work to end racism. If we want change, we have to support each other.

I don’t think I would be a very good representative of Jesus, if I only wanted to help Christians nor would I be a very just feminist if I wanted to oppress men. To make change, we all have to be open. We have to be willing to embrace differences, to help one another, and to unite for global justice.

I am the change, you are the change, and together we can make change happen!

 

The Trees are Changing

By: Jenni Taylor

“Oh, what do the trees know,
Oh, letting their leaves go?
Oh, what do the trees see?
Oh, that is beyond me…”–Laleh

I live in a country where the day and time you were born is believed to set your course in the stars. Being born in the Chinese year of the snake, they say I was given bright eyes and the ability to shed my skins, slither out of houses and homes and countries and places and change my scales at will. I look back and I see my layers spread out across the mountains and plains, only as strong as my memories or writings or letters from friends who know what I am despite my many faces.

The sermon on the mount tells me to be meek and merciful, salt and light, a lily of the field and a rock foundation. It’s not shedding skins- it’s putting new ones on, layer by layer, pieces of creation teaching us lessons and molding our spirits like the very air we breathe.

“Good tress bear good fruit,” he says, and I think of the roots deep in the ground and of the fragile leaves that can be plucked by any passing hand. I think of the colors changing and the rings being added like new life veins every year, each one telling a story, each one reminding me the trees might have a better understanding than I do of spirituality and change and strength and weakness wrapped into each other like DNA strands.

I breathe deep and reach into myself to find that strong foundation, the hymns buried in me singing of God’s everlasting love and faithfulness. I look to the times when I was the most child-like in my wonder and belief in good, and I know that is when the bigness and smallness of the sermon on the mount is beginning to touch my insides and mold me into something new.

I embrace the antonyms and realize the human spirit is allowed to be controversial, because it’s simply big enough to be everything at once. So I decide to be a snake, and a tree, and a human being, and learn the lessons set out before me.

Sacando las Raíces

By: Jenni Taylor

“Mi pecado es grande,” Cynthia joked, dragging a six foot root behind her to throw into the fire. “My sin is big.”

I was in Iquitos, Peru. A church recently bought a small plot of jungle ground outside of the city to build a missionary school. We had begun by sleeping in tents on shaky platforms made of sticks, but now it was time to clear the land for small houses and a maloca, a circular hut for meetings.photo1 (1)

The property was called the virgin jungle. We were, in effect, destroying a small piece of it. Some of the Peruvians came from the city; many others came from deep within the jungle and had done this many times before.

The men used slashing and burning to clear a stretch of a hillside, down to a small creek that flowed with clear, fresh water. The last mission school had still water, and students had come down with malaria. Cynthia, the young woman who had pulled out the root, was a survivor.

As the men slashed and burned, the women came behind. Mama Noemi, the mother of us all, crouched like a baboon over the burnt earth with her machete. She had loose breasts, strong hands, and wrinkles deep around her eyes. She had come to the mission school with her husband after she said she had been healed of blindness. She spoke more jungle dialects than any linguist at Harvard ever could.

The rest of us girls, eight of us or so, came behind mama. We crouched as she did and used our hands to pull out the root systems that had fed the trees for hundreds of years. We would pull and tug and hack away, sometimes two or three girls working at one root system weaving across the top of this small mountain. That’s when the joking began. We must be pulling out our sins, hacking away in this jungle heat and sweat.

As we pulled the ground, the soil and ashes began to give way to the whitest, purest sand I had ever seen. The afternoon light was beginning to fade into stretches of purple and yellow. The women went down to the creek to bathe, allowing cool water to soothe tired muscles. Mama Noemi crouched again, this time beating her laundry against a rock and then slapping it rhythmically into the water. The cooking fire lit up the dusk and smoke curled into the sky.

That night, after dinner and in the dark, we gathered in a circle and sang. A girl used a tambourine from the city, and a boy beat out a rhythm echoing Mama Noemi’s laundry on his cajon, a handmade jungle drum. The stars above wrapped their gauzy light around the southern cross constellation and twisted their way through the dark, twinkling with the same echoing rhythm and bringing their own music to the cacophony. This wild place, this tiny patch of untamed ground was becoming a home, and each song was a root of their own spirituality sinking into the ground and declaring the land theirs. So they sang, wailing to the sky, their spirits as wild as the jungle surrounding them.

More Than Just Godliness

Today we are delighted to feature our second post from Alexa. In her first post this month, Alexa talked about the strength she sees in her mother’s face. Today, Alexa looks at how her travels, and her passion for  travel as a means of personal growth and self-fulfillment, have given her wider perspectives on the strength people can derive from faith and religion. Check out more of Alexa’s writing on her blog, Past the Horizon.

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My First Communion

My mom has always said that if there were a gift that she could impart to me before she dies, it would be her faith in God. It is this faith that gives her strength and has kept her afloat throughout life’s tough moments. She believes that God works in mysterious ways, and though there are challenging moments in life, that pain and suffering isn’t pointless. It’s all for a reason. So perhaps when you are going through a rough moment, what you’ll learn from that experience will help make you a more compassionate person towards others in similar circumstances, or make you a better friend or parent in the future.

All of my life, I have seen and admired my moms’ faith for what it is, but for whatever reason it is something that I have just never felt in my being.
At this moment in my life, I would most aptly describe myself as an agnostic. Despite personally not feeling this faith in a higher power, I do recognize the strength that it can offer individuals when dealing with life’s many knocks.

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At the Blue Ridge Mountains with Different World Views

I don’t think; however, that this strengthening faith has to necessarily be constricted to the realms of godliness. I think that if you marvel at the mystery of life, nature the cosmos, the world, existence, and how the world works in cycles…you can see that nothing lasts forever, and whatever you are going through, it will change eventually.

I think there is solace in knowing that even with you lying perfectly still the world still revolves and life continues. Everything happens for a reason and faith in God, nature, and even other people’s faith is something that can be comforting and offer you added strength when you have none to spare.

Mountain Breaths

By: Jenni Taylor

There were ten of us on this camping trip, all teenage girls with 40-pound army bags weighing down our bony shoulders and clipped across our growing boobs. We would hike, sleep under mosquito nets, and cook porridge over a fire or eat peanut  butter smeared on carbohydrates. We had a shovel named Doug for all of our necessities, and I think one roll of toilet  paper for all of us for the full two weeks. It was, I believe, what people call “roughing it”.

After days of this, I was tired. I was dirty. I was covered with cuts and bites. I was the last one in the hiking line and my bag towered a foot or so over my head. All the cooking pots and pans were attached to me too, rattling and clanging and bruising together with each step I took. Then, out of nowhere, we had to climb this mountain. This giant ass mountain, all in the brush, no path. I wanted to cry. I was behind, I was small, I was young, I was holding up the group. I wanted to just tumble back with my bag on top of me and lie face down in the dirt until life went away. But the girls held out their blistered hands to help pull me up, bit by bit, making a human chain; and while the pots kept clanging away and my muscles popped and ached, I found myself climbing higher and higher above the treeline.

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Photo by: Autumn Elizabeth

When we made it to the top of the mountain, it was raining. The heat rising from the trees hit the cold free air and we were suddenly above the mist, looking down. Everyone was soaked and covered with mud, rivets of water running into our eyes and noses and mouths and shoes.  I took off my bag, lifted up my arms to the sky, and laughed and cried and laughed again. Then I ate a snickers bar. It was the best snickers bar I had ever tasted.
I I still remember how deeply I could breathe on top of that mountain, how open it all felt. Somewhere in the silly tears of a teenage girl scratching her way to the top, the feelings of being small, insignificant and worthless had all faded away to the fact that I could do it. I could climb. I had loving people around me. I wasn’t alone. I could do anything.

Bluejay

Today’s post is the last  from month of posts on loss.  Seanna Tucker, after opening our theme with her poem Daughter Grief, is back to share another poem .  This poem focuses on loss in nature, its connection to our own losses, and transitions nicely into our next theme of Breath. You can find more of Seanna’s work on her tumblr

Saw a Bluejay
Lying on the ground
Passed death
Wanna pick it up
Touch it’s wings
Feel the beauty in it’s feathers
Say – whisper –
Everything’s gonna be alright

Find it’s nest
That surely it must have fallen from
Or been on it’s way to
Protect it’s children
Not quite blue yet
Searching for their color
The way babies do

Sing a lullaby while I wait
For another parent to arrive
So the vultures or the snakes
Or whatever predator
Cannot attack these defenseless
Flightless
Little ones

All this passes
As I see a vibrant bird
Lying on its back
in the middle of a sidewalk
It’s peaceful

And I think
Surely, if such a heaven exists
This bird is there
And all the other birds
No longer afraid of predators
Flying through
All of their colors
On wavelengths that we cannot yet see

Surely, if such a place exists
This bird might know my father
And I can whisper one small request

“Say Hi for me”