Commentary

Memories of silence

I am starting to hear it every day on radio and television: “Winter is coming. Expect snow soon — maybe tonight.”

These prognostications brought to mind the 12-month winter I once experienced at Thule Air Base in Northern Greenland. The thing I remember most about the arctic was the utter quiet, the absolute soundlessness.

David Valen

Previously it seems that communion with God always demanded that I make the way, clear the clutter, and banish the distractions threatening to impede my road to God.

This is hard to imagine in the Age of Noise. But during the endless night on the great icecap …

no bird chirped
no dog barked
no tires squealed
no sirens wailed
no children laughed.

There was just unremitting silence.

Once a week an airplane swooped in quietly to bring supplies and a few “newbies” (newly arriving troops). An hour later it noisily retreated into the grey skies, and all was still again.

At first it was eerie and foreboding. But, I came to love it because it fostered tranquility, and it allowed the mind to be open to thought. As a result, the year changed me — profoundly and lastingly.

The still small voice

I became incurably curious. I read 150 books: history, drama, literature mostly. (I still have the list of titles.) In some cases the reading caused me to alter the course of my thinking by perhaps a degree or two. In others, the shift was massive. Always it was satisfying. As someone once said, nothing is more exhilarating than changing one’s mind.

I experienced God in a new way. Previously it seems that communion with God always demanded that I make the way, clear the clutter, and banish the distractions threatening to impede my road to God. But in the arctic — so necessarily devoid of these impediments — I experienced God coming to me. God came in the brilliant northern lights, in the handful of close friends, in the solitude of my barracks room, in the music I brought along, in the books — especially in the Book.

I needed God! Maybe that is why God was so present.

Therein lies the lesson. We all need God, … all the time. If we could somehow accomplish the herculean task of creating some silence and solitude in this noisy and fast-paced world, we would surely find God right there, coming to us. It is eminently worth the effort.

David Valen is the interim senior pastor at Cross of Glory Lutheran Church in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

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