by | May 22, 2022

It’s an odd thing to want as we are coming through a pandemic where many of us spent long stretches of time isolated from each other. But it’s silence that I long for, silence that I desire, silence that I crave.

These days the world seems filled with too much inconsequential chatter, a barrage of information and misinformation that is not especially helpful or even factual or truthful. It’s a world of constant noise. Even the crows complain. Loudly. Or maybe it is simply that during the pandemic I once again grew accustomed to a deep, satisfying silence that nourishes my soul

Yes, I know the dangers of silence all too well – the failure to speak up about injustice; the failure to give voice to those who have been silenced; the failure to give voice to truth and facts. The failure to speak up to protect the natural world, to work for peace and support the vulnerable can be deadly. Paul Simon gave voice to those silences eloquently in “The Sounds of Silence.”

I know the silence of shunning and the awful silence of waiting to hear the voice of someone dear. There are hard silences, like the silence after a fight with someone dear. There are soft silences, like the pause after words of love. There is the silence of snow falling, the silence of waking to a world transformed by a blanket of stillness. There is the silence of August humidity in the south, the air thick as split pea soup that absorbs all sound, and the silence of wind blowing through a field of ripe wheat.

My mother knew the value of silence: “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all,” she repeated until it became tattooed on my brain. A cliché, but nonetheless good advice.

There is the powerful silence when you sit with someone who is hurting, no words are necessary or helpful. All that is needed is to be present. To be. Then there is the silence like the spaces between words on a page, between lines of a poem – a place to pause, to absorb whatever is and whatever comes. Silence is a way to receive, to allow whatever you believe in – God, nature, the universe, spirits – to enter. It is in this silence that we can hear what is too often muffled in the din of tires on asphalt or gravel; birdsong and train whistles; ocean waves crashing on sand and the cries of gulls. This is the silence I crave, the silence of invitation, permission to be. Just be.

When I moved to Yancey County in 1992, I began attending Quaker Meeting on Sunday mornings. The Friends Meeting House was the closest formal place of worship and a drive into town was at least 25 minutes. I found that hour of sitting in silence held a power I could not describe. It was the only time I shut up, sat still, and allowed the silence to speak. It was calming. It was invigorating and it was as close to meditation as I had come except for 10+ mile runs alone.

Years later I was fortunate to join a group of women in Centering Prayer once a week. I looked forward to those two hours on Monday afternoon, gathering first with strangers who quickly became soul sisters. For years we met faithfully every week. We sat alone together in silence. It was the only part of my week that I could count on not having to do anything except be. And receive. I gave myself, mind, spirit, and body to whatever arrived during those two hours. I always left more focused and with a peace that “surpassed all understanding.”

Although I’ve continued a Centering Prayer and meditation practice, I’ve recently allowed the business and the chatter of the world to keep me from the silence and the stillness that nourishes me.

“You need to go where you are fed,” a retired Episcopal Priest told me several years ago. Indeed. Silence feeds me. In the poem below, Billy Collins explores the power of silence.


There is the sudden silence of the crowd
above a player not moving on the field,
and the silence of the orchid.

The silence of the falling vase
before it strikes the floor,
the silence of the belt when it is not striking the child.

The stillness of the cup and the water in it,
the silence of the moon
and the quiet of the day far from the roar of the sun.

The silence when I hold you to my chest,
the silence of the window above us,
and the silence when you rise and turn away.

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.

—Billy Collins, Poetry, April 2005


  1. Edison V Seel

    Beautifully written, Sweetheart. There are so many directions that “silence” can lead.
    Thank you.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you for some of the best silences.

  2. Sam Barbee

    Very poignant. I passed this onto several friends. Thx 🙂

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Sam, and thanks for sharing.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Bill, your blog posts helped me focus on silence and stillness.

  3. Elizabeth Holden

    This touches me, Pat. I live in silence and I know how powerful it is. When words move out from it, they have a real significance.

    • Pat Riviere-Seel

      Thank you, Betty. You have offered me yet another way of looking at silence and the way words move out of it.


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